R.I. files arguments in Narragansett trust land case

Providence, Rhode Island (AP) 6-08

Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri filed legal arguments June 6 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent the Narragansett Tribe from removing a 31-acre lot from state control, a step that could help the tribe build a casino there.

In court filings, Carcieri’s attorneys said the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act does not allow the U.S. Department of the Interior to place the tribe’s land into federal trust, which would largely exempt it from state and local control. 


Attorneys for Carcieri said Congress passed the act to benefit American Indian tribes that had been recognized by 1934, when the act took effect. The law was supposed to help tribes acquire new land after their reservations were forcibly sold off during forced assimilation campaigns in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The Narragansett tribe does not meet that requirement, Carcieri’s lawyers said. The Narragansett tribal council voted to sell off its lands in 1879 and was subsequently disbanded by the state. A century later, the tribe filed a lawsuit to gets its land back.

Under a 1978 settlement with the state, the tribe received 1,800 acres of land in Charlestown on the condition that state law would apply to those lands, including state prohibitions on casino gambling. The tribe was federally recognized in 1983.

In 1996, at the behest of the late Sen. John Chafee, Congress banned the Narragansetts from applying under federal law to build a casino on that land without state approval.

Lawyers say it is less clear whether the tribe could build a casino on the 31-acre parcel if it is taken into federal trust. That land was purchased privately and was not part of the 1978 settlement.

Lawyers for the Department of the Interior are expected to file their legal arguments in August. Their lawyers interpret the act more broadly, saying the law was meant not only to address past wrongs, but to set the standard for future dealings with American Indian tribes.