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Another GAO report looks at land-into-trust
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Newly recognized tribes and tribes who lost their federal recognition have regained more than 600,000 acres, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

During the 1950s and the 1960s, Congress terminated the federal government's relationship with over 100 tribes. Thirty-seven of them have been restored to recognition through special pieces of legislation or through lawsuits, the GAO report said.

Other tribes who were never recognized have gained federal status by going through Congress or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The report counts 47 tribes who have been recognized since 1960.

In total, the 84 newly recognized and restored tribes have had nearly 637,000 acres placed in trust on their behalf or on the behalf of individual members, according to the GAO.

"Two groups of tribes of particular interest that have availed themselves of BIA's land in trust process are newly recognized and restored tribes," the October 20 report said.

According to the report, the largest restoration was 235,000 acres for the Menominee Nation of Wisconsin. The tribe, however, didn't go through the BIA's land-into-trust process because Congress mandated the acquisition of the land.

The same goes for two tribes in Maine who saw more than 190,000 acres restored after a lawsuit. As a result, it's not possible to tell from the report which of the 84 tribes went through the BIA process and which didn't.

The GAO also didn't specify how much land the terminated tribes lost. For example, the Klamath Tribes of Oregon have about 1,300 acres in trust -- significantly less from the 1.2 million-acre reservation that was in trust prior to termination.

Either way, the report showed that not everyone has benefited from the land-into-trust process. The GAO found 21 tribes who are landless because they have no trust land.

Almost all of the landless tribes are based in California, where the termination policy claimed most of its victims. But some do have land held in trust for individual members.

"According to BIA’s fiscal year 2005 annual acreage reports, the federal government holds title to land in trust for individual tribal members of 7 of 21 landless tribes, but none for the tribe itself," the report said.

Due to heightened scrutiny over gaming, the GAO has taken several looks at the BIA's land-into-trust and federal recognition processes. The reports have found the agency to be slow-moving but no wrongdoing has been found.

The latest report was written to address the Bureau of Land Management's allotment process. The GAO found that the process is "no longer viable" because there is no more available land.

"Despite the lack of land available for release, BLM estimates that it receives an average of one to five allotment applications per year," the report said.

"Interior continues to bear the administrative burden of processing these Indian allotment applications even though applicants have little chance of approval. Continuing to issue Indian allotments also runs counter to the federal government's actions since 1983 to consolidate Indian land holdings," it continued.

As a result, the GAO recommends that Section 4 of the 1887 General Allotment Act be repealed. In a letter, the BLM agreed with the recommendation but didn't say when it might be proposed to Congress.

Under the allotment policy, tribes lost more than 90 million acres between 1887 and 1934, the year Congress put an end to the practice with the Indian Reorganization Act. Through the IRA, about 9 million acres has been taken into trust, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

Section 5 of the IRA has come under repeated attack from states and local governments but the courts have upheld the legality of the land-into-trust process. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a pair of cases that challenged the IRA.

GAO Report:
Abstract | Full Report

Related Stories:
Supreme Court won't hear land-into-trust cases (10/03)
Gaming tribes support Section 20 IGRA regulations (4/11)
BIA expects more off-reservation gaming applications (4/6)
BIA sets meetings for Section 20 regulations (3/28)
Off-reservation casino sites still in question (3/16)
Listening Lounge: Hearing on off-reservation gaming (3/15)
BIA sets timetable for new gaming regulations (03/01)
Senate panel presses BIA on gaming regulations (02/02)
BIA takes stab at land-into-trust for gaming rules (2/1)
Witness list for hearing on off-reservation gaming (1/31)
Appeals court sides with tribe in trust land dispute (01/09)
IGRA amendments tough on many, especially tribes (12/12)
Oklahoma tribe hires ex-BIA official to lobby for land (12/01)
Tribes dispute local power over trust land decisions (11/10)
BIA official revives off-reservation land regulations (09/21)
Gaming clouds already lengthy land-into-trust process (09/15)
Appeals court upholds legality of land-into-trust process (09/14)
NIGC develops system to track Indian lands (07/28)
Perception and realities in land-into-trust debate (05/19)
Land into trust to be examined at Senate hearing (5/10)
Land-into-trust problems aired at Senate hearing (4/28)
Update: Senate hearing on Indian gaming (04/27)
BIA backs bill to delay off-reservation casino (04/06)
Exceptions to IGRA more common than often cited (03/21)
Off-reservation casino dropped as debate continues (03/21)
Appeals court sides with tribe in trust land dispute (02/10)
Court won't rehear challenge to tribal land base (05/21)
Court says U.S. can protect tribe's interests (02/04)
Land still in limbo after decade-long fight (10/16)
The day the Supreme Court said no (10/16)

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