NCUIH Signs Tribal Partner Organization Letter Requesting Legislative Fix to Carcieri v. Salazar

On October 7, 2022, NCUIH signed on to a letter submitted by the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) Sovereignty Protection Fund (SPF) to Senate Majority Leader Schumer. The letter calls on the Senate to pass a legislative fix addressing the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, 222 US 379 (2009). The full text of this letter is available here.


Carcieri v. Salazar Impact on Indian Country

In 2009, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.  The case considered whether the Secretary of the Interior could use their authority pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) to take land into trust for the Narragansett Tribe.  The Court held that the IRA Act did not apply to Tribes that were not recognized by the federal government at the time the statute was enacted in 1934.  Since the Narragansett were not formally recognized by the federal government until 1983, the Court also held that the Secretary of the Interior did not have the authority to take land into trust for the Tribe.


According to testimony provided by Larry Echo Hawk, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in 2011, “The Carcieri decision was inconsistent with the longstanding policy and practice of the United States under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to assist federally recognized tribes in establishing and protecting a land base sufficient to allow them to provide for the health, welfare, and safety of tribal members, and to treat tribes alike regardless of their date of federal acknowledgment.”  The Supreme Court’s decision has significantly impacted the federal government’s fee-to-trust process requiring the Department of the Interior (DOI) to engage in extensive legal and historical research prior to taking land into trust. In some cases, it has also stopped the DOI from taking land into trust for some tribes altogether.

Letter Highlights

In their October letter, USET notes that more than 13 years have passed since the Carcieri v. Salazar ruling, arguing that this decision jeopardizes the ability of federally recognized Tribal Nations to rebuild their communities and provide essential governmental programs. Tribal land bases are considered the foundation of Tribal sovereignty, and this ruling has sparked legal challenges, many of which threaten Tribal lands that have been in trust for decades, that aim to dismantle Tribal sovereignty altogether.  If this decision remains unaddressed, USET states that substantial litigation over existing trust lands will ensue.

In addition, USET explains that Tribal Nations have been expressing a desire for a legislative fix to Carcieri v. Salazar with two specific components. The first component is a restoration of the Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for all Tribal Nations. The second component is to reaffirm the existing Tribal government trust lands and the actions of the Secretary to take land into trust.

The letter also recognizes that H.R. 4352 (To amend the Act of June 18, 1934, to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, and for other purposes) is a critical piece of legislation necessary to stop the growing legal challenges threatening Tribal authority and overall sovereignty. In addition, USET goes on to express their support of enacting S. 4830 (A bill to reaffirm actions taken by the Secretary of the Interior for the benefit of Indian Tribes, and for other purposes). These bills would enable Tribal Nations and the Department to move forward in restoring their Tribal homelands. Congress has enacted similar legislation for specific Tribal Nations over the years, but this would make it so that Congress does not have to consider individual bills in a piecemeal fashion.

Next Steps

As a passionate supporter of Tribal sovereignty and strong Tribal economies, NCUIH was proud to sign the Tribal Partners Organization letter. NCUIH also signed on to a similar letter in April with other leading American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy organizations.

NCUIH urges Congress to pass legislation that restores the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized Tribes and which reaffirms the status of existing Tribal trust lands.

NCUIH Sends Letter in Support of the IHS Request to Detail Public Health Service Commissioned Officers to Urban Indian Organizations

On May 24, 2022, the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) sent a letter to the Chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and to the Ranking Members Representative David Joyce (R-OH-14) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), expressing NCUIH’s support for detailing Public Health Service Commission Officers (PHSCOs) to Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs). Detailing officers to UIOs would assist UIO personnel in providing skilled, culturally competent healthcare, help address workforce shortages, and increase collaboration across the federal healthcare system.

Amending the law would provide the Indian Health Service (IHS) with the discretionary authority to detail PHSCOs directly to a UIO to perform work related to the functions of the Service. Such authority would be comparable to the existing authority to detail Officers to Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) contractors and compactors for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of their ISDEAA contracts (section 7 of the Act of August 5, 1954 (42 U.S.C. § 2004b). The bill would support the 41 UIOs that serve the 70% of American Indians and Alaska Natives that live outside of reservations. Currently, UIOs only get 1% of IHS funding, so to fully staff UIOs, Public Health Service Commissioned Officers need to be deployed.

The Biden Administration and IHS support this deployment of PHSCOs to UIOs by including the provision in their Fiscal Year 2023 budget. NCUIH urges Chair Pingree and Merkley and Ranking Members Joyce and Murkowski to support this provision in the 2023 budget, and if not feasible, to support this provision in the next budget or in a stand-alone bill.


Section 215 of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA) authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to detail officers to federal agencies and state health or mental health authorities. While UIOs have requested that officers be detailed to them to fill many roles related to the functions of the Public Health Service, subsection (c) of Section 215 (42 U.S.C. 215(c)) prevents UIOs from receiving detailed officers because they do not fall within the requirement that non-profits eligible for detailing be educational or research non-profits, or non-profits engaged in health activities for special studies and dissemination of information.” UIOs do not qualify under the current statutory language. Changing this language would allow IHS to detail officers to UIOs to perform work related to the functions of the Indian Health Service.

DOJ Consultation Meeting on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Needs of Native Americans

On January 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Tribal Justice (OTJ) issued a Dear Tribal Leader letter inviting Tribal leaders to a two-day government-to-government consultation on March 16 and 17, 2022. The purpose of this two-day consultation is to discuss “DOJ’s efforts to address the unacceptably high rate of violent crime in Native communities, including the rates of missing or murdered indigenous persons.” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco directed this consultation in her November 15, 2021  memorandum establishing the DOJ’s Steering Committee to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous persons (MMIP). The OTJ is also welcoming written comments via email to until April 15, 2022. The meetings will be held from 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. EST on both days.

On November 15, 2021, during the White House Tribal Nations Summit, President Biden signed Executive Order 14053 (E.O.) “Improving Public Safety and Criminal Justice for Native Americans and Addressing the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous People,” which directed the Administration to work together with Tribes to “build safe and healthy Tribal communities and to support comprehensive law enforcement, prevention, intervention, and support services.”  The E.O. also recognizes that because “approximately 70 percent of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas and part of this epidemic of violence is against Native American people in urban areas, we must continue that work on Tribal lands but also build on existing strategies to identify solutions directed toward the particular needs of urban Native Americans.”  To that end, in her November 15, 2021 memorandum, Deputy Attorney General Monaco directed DOJ’s Steering Committee to seek and consider the views of stakeholders including Urban Indian Organizations.