indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Indian Law Online Master Degree
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Interior asks Congress for power to take Indian lands
Monday, July 18, 2005

The Bush administration is once again asking Congress for authority to take "unclaimed" Indian lands and to eliminate its trust responsibility to tens of thousands of individual Indians.

In a letter to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Interior Department urged Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to add provisions to a bill that is already on the Senate floor. Although the proposed changes were described as "technical," they would give the federal government powers that haven't been the subject of a hearing or prior public debate.

Matt Eames, Interior's director of Congressional affairs, said the department needs the ability to take lands that are owned by individual Indians who can't currently be located. Nearly 49,000 Indian beneficiaries, who are owed an estimated $73.9 million, would be affected.

"Under state law, a state may sell or auction off certain personal property that has not been claimed by an owner within a certain amount of time, usually within 5 years," the May 10 letter stated. "This is not the case with inactive Individual Indian Money accounts or real property interests."

Eames also proposed language to address two court cases -- including one that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court -- that favored individual Indians and their constitutionally protected property rights. He said the department needs authority to take highly fractionated lands from beneficiaries, albeit with compensation.

"The provision should provide that the escheat of those interests to the tribes involved a taking by the United States and should provide compensation to the heirs of those escheated interests," Eames told McCain.

The proposals came in the administration's official response to S.536, the Native American Omnibus Act of 2005. The bill was approved by McCain's committee on May 12 and could be scheduled for a Senate vote any time.

If added to the bill, the provisions would eliminate the federal government's responsibilities to tens of thousands of Indian beneficiaries throughout the country who either can't be located or who share ownership in highly fractionated pieces of land. Interior officials have said keeping track of these account holders is costing the department millions of dollars.

Over the years, several proposals have been floated in an attempt to close the accounts, an effort that former assistant secretary Neal McCaleb once described as "termination." Not surprisingly, Indian Country hasn't reacted positively.

In late 2002, the department proposed an unclaimed property act that was soundly rejected by tribal leaders who were participating in the task force on trust reform. Interior officials blamed the legislation's quick demise on the task force, saying tribal leaders prematurely shared the information with the plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit and with the media.

But the department, tribes, Indian landowners and other stakeholders were able to come together and pass the American Indian Probate Reform Act. The bill, signed into law by President Bush in October 2004, encourages estate planning by individual Indians, establishes a uniform probate code and helps tribes consolidate fractionated lands.

Past efforts, however, have not met muster in the courts. In the Babbitt v. Youpee case, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress violated the property rights of about 18,000 individual Indians in the Great Plains and the Midwest by taking their lands without just compensation. The decision was issued in 1997 and the department is still trying to sort out the mess.

More recently, a federal judge has found another piece of legislation to be unconstitutional in the DuMarce v. Norton case. It affects members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe whose fractionated lands were taken without just compensation.

The relevant parts of the Interior Department's letter are as follows:
The Department also suggests additional amendments be added to S. 536. ... We also recommend two new titles be added to the bill that would provide a technical correction to address the decisions in Youpee v. Babbitt and DuMarce v. Norton and give the Secretary the authority to address unclaimed property.

Youpee and Sisseton-Wahpeton
A new title should be added to S. 536 that would provide a technical correction to address the decisions in Youpee v. Babbitt and DuMarce v. Norton. The United States Supreme Court in Youpee held the escheat provision of the Indian Land Consolidation Act as unconstitutional. In DuMarce, the District Court for the District of South Dakota found unconstitutional a statute under which any interest of less than two and a half acres would automatically escheat to the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. As a result of these two decisions, the Department is faced with having to revest interests that escheated under both statutes back to the rightful heir. We request that a new title be added declaring that any interest that escheated pursuant to these Acts be vested in the tribe to which they escheated unless they have been revested in the name of the heirs of the allottee by the Secretary since the escheatment. The provision should provide that the escheat of those interests to the tribes involved a taking by the United States and should provide compensation to the heirs of those escheated interests.

Unclaimed Property
Under state law, a state may sell or auction off certain personal property that has not been claimed by an owner within a certain amount of time, usually within 5 years. This is not the case with inactive Individual Indian Money accounts or real property interests. Often times the whereabouts of account owners are unknown to the Department because account holders do not respond to our requests for address information and our repeated attempts to locate them have been unsuccessful. This may be because the small amount in their account does not make such effort worthwhile. However, the Department must account for every interest regardless of size and we do not have the authority to stop administering accounts where whereabouts of the owner are unknown. We must have the authority to close these small accounts and restore economic value to the assets if the owner does not claim their interest within a certain amount of time. If the owner does not come forward, the revenue generated from the interest should be held in a general holding account against which claims could be made in the future if the owner’s whereabouts become known or used to further the fractionation program.

Native American Omnibus Act:
S.536 | Report 109-67 [Contains DOI Letter]

American Indian Probate Reform Act:
Public Law No: 108-374

Court Decisions:
DuMarce v. Norton | Babbitt v. Youpee

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Trust reform costs put at $3B, thanks to Bush (06/13)
OST audits fare no better under Ross Swimmer (06/07)
Norton lobbies Congress on trust fund accounting (03/11)
DOI says probate bill doesn't solve fractionation (11/10)
Bush puts signature to probate reform legislation (10/28)
Probate reform bill ready for Bush's signature (10/07)
Anderson touts benefits of Cobell trust fund case (02/25)
Tribes back improvements in probate reform bill (10/16)
Tribes focus energies on 'core' trust reform issues (05/30)
On fractionation, little progress in decades (05/09)
Fractionation a growing problem in Indian Country (05/06)
Bill offers 'extinguishment' of trust fund claims (11/06)
Legislation to create a 'passive' Indian trust (10/18)
Bush proposal to take 'unclaimed' Indian land (09/26)
Rift widens on trust reform negotiations (9/12)
Tribes scrap talks on trust standards (9/11)
Tribal leaders debate trust reform bill (5/23)
McCaleb gets too close to termination (1/29)
Interior moving to close trust fund accounts (1/25)

Copyright © 2000-2005 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Homeless students find support in Rapid City (9/16)
Checks from final payment of Cobell settlement put in the mail (9/16)
DOI offers $9.4M for Cobell buy-backs on Umatilla Reservation (9/16)
House takes up bill to address tribal general welfare programs (9/16)
Tribal leaders headed to Capitol Hill to push legislative priorities (9/16)
NMAI hosts symposium on treaties to coincide with new exhibit (9/16)
Witnesses: Hearing on bill to bar Tohono O'odham Nation casino (9/16)
Rival tribes spend $13M to block Tohono O'odham Nation casino (9/16)
Mark Charles: Trail of Tears sign points to much deeper problem (9/16)
Donna Ennis: Don't let ethnic imposters take away our identity (9/16)
Sen. Cantwell to introduce bill to end NFL's tax-exempt status (9/16)
House backs package to transfer federal land to Te-Moak Tribe (9/16)
Fort Peck Tribes cited state game warden for criminal trespass (9/16)
Mohegan Tribe to open first Smashburger location in December (9/16)
Urban Indian population grows in Brazil's poorest neighborhoods (9/16)
Indian family in Washington continues bid for casino on allotment (9/16)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe challenges NLRB jurisdiction over casino (9/16)
Mohegan Tribe loses bid for commercial casino in Massachusetts (9/16)
Connecticut tribes see another decline in slot machine revenues (9/16)
Tim Giago: Standing tall for Native American Day in South Dakota (9/15)
Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne man beaten by BIA officer (9/15)
Mark Trahant: Ten reasons why every Native person should vote (9/15)
Jay Daniels: Still waiting on that final Cobell settlement payment (9/15)
Vote set on bill to protect Gun Lake Tribe's casino from litigation (9/15)
HUD settles complaint for couple on Turtle Mountain Reservation (9/15)
Bryan Brewer: Approve HR3043 to stop IRS harassment of tribes (9/15)
Maryann McGovran: Vote for North Fork Rancheria's gaming deal (9/15)
Donna Ennis: Tribal banishments are a form of cultural genocide (9/15)
Steven Newcomb: Political meanings restrict indigenous peoples (9/15)
Bruce Anderson: Washington team name preserves stereotypes (9/15)
Column: DC-area Native people oppose NFL team's racist mascot (9/15)
House set to vote on bill to transfer federal land to Te-Moak Tribe (9/15)
Paskenta Band holds election aimed at resolving council dispute (9/15)
Tribes in Oklahoma raise their minimum wage above federal level (9/15)
Blog: Taos Pueblo exerts sovereignty over health care programs (9/15)
Travel: Remote parks on Navajo Nation are an 'extraordinary find' (9/15)
Petitions submitted to put Tohono O'odham Nation casino to vote (9/15)
Dry Creek Rancheria struggling to see gaming revenues recover (9/15)
Poarch Creeks still open to Class III gaming compact discussion (9/15)
Editorial: Cherokee Nation brings jobs with project next to casino (9/15)
Native Sun News: Olympic medalist visits Pine Ridge Reservation (9/12)
Bryan Brewer: Bill for Native language immersion a high priority (9/12)
Sen. Tester applauds approval of final Cobell settlement payout (9/12)
Kenneth Deer: UN meeting an opportunity for indigenous peoples (9/12)
Judge won't issue injunction in Pojoaque Pueblo compact dispute (9/12)
Ex-manager for Shingle Springs Band's casino told to pay $2.4M (9/12)
Briefs filed in lawsuit over United Keetoowah Band's gaming site (9/12)
Quapaw Tribe expands agricultural program at casino restaurant (9/12)
Judge approves motion to distribute Cobell settlement payment (9/11)
Native Sun News: Final Cobell payment might 'almost' be ready (9/11)
Mark Trahant: Affordable Care Act is worthy of debate in election (9/11)
Gyasi Ross: Support Quechan skate park and self-determination (9/11)
Disaster declared after Moapa Paiute Reservation hit by flooding (9/11)
Brian Pierson: Recent federal court decisions affecting Indian law (9/11)
Navajo Nation presidential candidate a target over fluency issue (9/11)
Northern Arapaho Tribe withdraws from joint Wind River council (9/11)
Editorial: Standing Rock Sioux Tribe trying to make budget work (9/11)
University of Utah creates scholarships for students of Ute Tribe (9/11)
Nez Perce Tribe seeks update to historic trail from 1877 journey (9/11)
Miccosukee Tribe seeks removal of judge in dispute with lawyers (9/11)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.