Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Community Planning (MCP)


Community Planning and Area Development

First Advisor

Howard H. Foster, Jr.


This masters research project will assess the jurisdiction and impact of state environmental regulations upon the recently created Narragansett Tribe of Indians Reservation located in Charlestown, Rhode Island. Native American lands held in federal trust are generally immune to state civil jurisdiction; specifically, state environmental regulatory law. State and local governments are often faced with difficult environmental management problems created by the inapplicability of various state and local regulatory jurisdictions. Do State of Rhode Island environmental regulations such as ISDS, solid waste disposal permitting, soil erosion ordinances, and state wetland permitting, etc. apply to Native American reservation lands within its borders? Does the State of Rhode Island have a regulatory role in the use and development of Indian reservations within its borders? Which entity has greater regulatory authority, the State or Tribe?

This paper will examine the policy issue and legal implications of the applicability of State land use regulatory jurisdiction over the Narragansett Tribe of Indians Reservation and any future "Indian lands" within Rhode Island. To what extent has Native American sovereignty over reservation lands been eroded or expanded by case law and state and federal statutory law? In addition, how does the changing legal status impact policy issues?

Today's "Indian lands" or Native American Reservations are immune to certain state civil and administrative law jurisdiction as provided by federal treaty and statute. Absent statutory proviso, state jurisdiction is interpreted by the judicial system based upon subject matter and geographic jurisdiction. Most Indian lands held in either fee simple or federal trust are subject to a checkerboard pattern of jurisdiction (federal, state and tribal) which may create a void of environmental regulation with the absence of state regulatory power.

The purpose of this research project is to review federal and state policy, legislation, statutory law and case law to determine the applicability of state environmental regulations upon the Narragansett Tribe of Indians Reservation; in particular, the recently acquired conservation land conveyed through agreement with the State of Rhode Island. In addition, the applicability of municipal regulations (i.e., zoning, etc.) will be addressed. The analysis of the various applicable laws as well as the preconditions and agreements entered into by the State of Rhode Island and the Narragansett Tribe of Indians will define the appropriate federal, state and tribal environmental regulatory jurisdiction. Finally, the paper will discuss the future role of state regulatory police power and its application upon any additional future reservation land.



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