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In Ore., tribes' members eye Supreme Court case

11/3/2008, By Mary Hudetz, The Oregonian

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Oregon tribes are keeping a close eye on a U.S. Supreme Court case that involves a plot of land 3,000 miles away.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the Rhode Island-based Narragansett Tribe, and other tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, can place land into trust with the federal government.

The 1934 act has been called the Indian New Deal and gives tribes the authority to govern their own land.

The Narragansett Tribe, which wasn't federally recognized until 1983, said it wants to place 31 acres into trust and use much of it for low-income housing. The state of Rhode Island, however, fears the tribe wants to use the land to build a casino. The state would lose jurisdiction over the land if U.S. Department of Interior were to place it in trust.

In the 1950s, dozens of Oregon tribes were terminated by the federal government, and lost their tribal sovereignty. Since then, eight tribal governments have been re-established, and most of the tribes are trying to regain some of the land that was sold a half-century ago.

Jeff Mitchell, a council member of the Klamath Tribes, said he believes the Narragansett case could bear some significance in Oregon. His tribe regained its federal recognition status in 1986.

"We want to put more land back into trust now," he said. "We want a sustainable homeland."

Another tribe hoping to restore part of its original reservation is the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Rob Greene, a lawyer for the Grand Ronde, said tribal leadership is watching the case closely and had a lawyer observe Monday's hearing in Washington D.C.

Greene said the Grand Ronde had a 60,000-acre reservation before they were terminated, and only 10,000 acres has been restored. "Really most of our land acquisition has to do with recovering the land that we lost," he said.

Mitchell and Greene say neither the Klamath nor the Grand Ronde tribes have a troubled relationship with the state of Oregon. But that doesn't lessen the importance of the court's decision.

"This decision, depending on how it goes, could have an impact on how we move forward," Mitchell said.

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