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Poarch Creek have major legislative victory in Congress

President Barack Obama delivers a health care address to a joint session of Congress at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act by a voice vote.

The bill was sponsored by U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne.

This legislation would address a legal technicality that, in theory, could potentially have legally jeopardized the tribe’s reservation status.

This issue first came up in April 2013 when then state Senator Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, while representing the Escambia County Commission as an attorney, launched a legal campaign to disenfranchise the PCI of their Tribal standing before the Federal government. Taylor, argued that the 2009 Supreme Court ruling in ‘Carcieri v. Salazar’ rendered the PCI’s Land Trust null and void.  Then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange also brought up this issue in a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The Bureau, during the Obama Administration, rejected these arguments; but some think that if this were taken to federal court that the Tribe could lose their federally protected trust status.  The purpose of the lawsuit was to make the Tribe pay taxes to Escambia County; but at least in theory it could have closed the county’s leading employer.

H.R. 1532, if passed by the Senate, and then signed by the President, would prevent that from happening.  H.R. 1532 describes the lands, in Elmore, Escambia, and Montgomery Counties that were taken into trust by the United States for the benefit of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians prior to the date of enactment of this Act are reaffirmed, subject to valid existing rights, as trust land and shall remain as Indian country under section 1151 of title 18, United States Code.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling ‘Carcieri v. Salazar’ stated that lands acquired by Tribes after 1932 could not be held in trust.  Some of PCI’s property was not put acquired into trust until 1995.

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Prior to becoming a state Senator, Bryan Taylor advised former Gov. Bob Riley in his efforts against the State’s then out of control electronic bingo industry. Taylor continued his effort against battle the Poarch Band of Creek Indians both as an attorney for Escambia County and while he was in the State Senate.  Taylor is now Gov. Kay Ivey’s General Counsel.

Congressman Byrne said in his speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, “This legislation is necessary due to the legal uncertainty caused by the Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. This decision has unnecessarily created legal ambiguity about whether the Poarch Creek land is actually in trust or not.”

“The Poarch Creek Indians are a valued and trusted part of our community in Southwest Alabama,” Byrne said. “Their economic impact in Escambia County, Alabama, speaks for itself. From their help with funding for community projects to their business enterprises that employ thousands of Alabamians, the Poarch help make life better for so many people in our area.”

Some analysts have suggested that passage of this legislation would give the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a much strengthened negotiating position with the state of Alabama, if and when the state approaches the Indians about a possible compact.  With their legal status secured, the Tribe would not necessarily need to enter into any sort of a compact with the state.

H.R. 1532 now moves on to the U.S. Senate for their consideration.

(Original reporting by the ‘Yellowhammer News and earlier reporting in APR by Bill Britt contributed to this report.)

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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