Indian Affairs Bills

Statement for the Record

United States Department of the Interior

for the

Committee on Indian Affairs

United States Senate

S. 872

November 10, 2011

The Department of the Interior (Department) has reviewed S. 872, a bill that would modify the date as of which certain tribal land of the Lytton Rancheria of California is to be considered held in trust and to provide for the conduct of certain activities on the land. The Department opposes S. 872, as currently drafted, at this time.

Public Law 106-568 (Dec. 27, 2000) required the Secretary to acquire certain lands in trust in northern California on behalf of the Lytton Rancheria, and deemed those lands to “have been held in trust and part of the reservation of the Rancheria prior to October 17, 1988.” The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) generally prohibits Indian tribes from conducting gaming on lands acquired after October 17, 1988, subject to several exceptions.

The Department of the Interior placed the land in question in trust on behalf of the Lytton Rancheria on October 9, 2003.

The Lytton Rancheria (Tribe) lawfully operates a Class II gaming facility on those trust lands in northern California. The Tribe does not have a tribal-state gaming compact with the State of California; meaning, the Tribe is not able to operate a Class III gaming facility on the site.

S. 872 would amend P.L. 106-568 by deeming the land in question to have been acquired in trust on October 9, 2003. The bill would also limit the Tribe's existing Class II gaming activities by providing, “the Lytton Rancheria of California shall not expand the exterior physical measurements of any facility on the Lytton Rancheria in use for class II gaming activities on the date of enactment of this paragraph.”

The Department's policy is to support tribes' inherent governing authority over their own lands by protecting their ability to control tribal land use. S. 872 would diminish the Lytton Rancheria's land-use authority by essentially imposing a zoning restriction on existing facilities on its trust lands. By modifying the legal date of the trust acquisition of the Tribe's lands, S. 872 would also restrict the ongoing operation of the Tribe's economic enterprises, which were within the limits of federal law at the time they were established. In the Department's view, Indian tribes should be permitted to reasonably rely upon the scope of federal laws governing the use of their lands when making decisions regarding land-use.

Importantly, Lytton Rancheria cannot develop and operate a Las Vegas-style, Class III gaming facility on the lands at issue until the Tribe enters into a valid tribal-state gaming compact.

The Department's position with respect to S. 872 should not be interpreted to mean that the Department would support future legislation that would modify a tribe's trust acquisition of lands in a manner similar to P.L. 106-568. Nevertheless, the Department opposes retroactive restrictions on lands that have already been acquired in trust on behalf of Indian tribes and individual Indians in reliance on existing federal laws.

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