Native American Tribes Steadily Gaining Reservation Lands

Philip Marcelo, MSN, March 20, 2016

Native American tribes have been steadily gaining lands under President Barack Obama’s administration.

Nearly 400,000 acres have been placed into trust for tribes since Obama took office in 2009, according to data from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

And more lands set aside for tribes are likely on the way.

The president has pledged to place a total of 500,000 acres into trust for tribes before his tenure ends. That’s more than double the roughly 233,000 acres placed into trust during the prior tenure of President George W. Bush.

John Dossett, general counsel to the D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians, said the administration has been more proactive than prior ones in speeding up an application process that can sometimes take decades.

But it remains to be seen whether the next administration will have the same commitment, he said. Roughly 525,000 acres of land that tribes are seeking to place into trust are still pending decisions, according to the interior department.

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Native American lands collectively represent about 56 million acres–a territory roughly the size of Minnesota, Dossett said.

Generally, getting land placed into trust requires tribes purchase or otherwise acquire rights to land and then petition the federal government for the special status. If placed into trust, the land is tax exempt, eligible for federal programs for business development, housing and other uses.

C. Matthew Snipp, director of the Native American studies program at Stanford University, said the process isn’t without controversy.

“It’s always been controversial, gaming or not, because it removes land from the local tax rolls,” he said. “One way of looking at this is that this is just a process of righting past wrongs, and for local governments, what goes around, comes around.”

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