indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Kill The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

Printer friendly version
On fractionation, little progress in decades
FRIDAY, MAY 9, 2003

If government officials seem all too eager to stem the fractionation of Indian lands, it's not just because the land will become "worthless," as one predicted this week, it's that they have done little to address the problem in the last 70 years.

Fractionation was known as early as the 1920s, a regional Bureau of Indian Affairs director said. At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Wayne Nordwall proudly cited a report that was drafted in 1938 after a meeting held by Felix Cohen and John Collier, considered one of the "fathers" of modern Indian law.

"What this report is, if you tear off the cover and take away the date and you read the text and the ideas and the suggestions and the problems that were facing the Department of Interior and Indian Country in 1938," he observed, "they are the exact same problem we're talking about now."

It wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the BIA's less than stellar efforts to stem the increasing division of Indian land into smaller and smaller ownership interests. Neither was a 1992 report, this one by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which showed a 100 percent increase in fractionation on just 12 reservations over a six-year period.

Now, by a number of estimates, the government is confronted with a very expensive task. It will cost anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion to consolidate every small land interest in Indian Country.

"A lot of Interior's wounds are self-inflicted," said Sally Willet, a judge who handled thousands of Indian probate cases when she worked at the department.

The BIA isn't alone in shouldering the responsibility. It was Congress, after all, that passed the General Allotment Act in 1887, ushering in the destruction of the tribal estate by parceling out land to individual Indians.

The idea was that Indians would assimilate into white society -- Congress never anticipated fractionation because Indians were supposed to disappear into local and state jurisdictions. That's why 33 state probate codes are applied -- unfairly, say government officials and tribal leaders -- to Indian probate cases today.

It's not that Congress, like the BIA, hasn't tried to reverse course. But the legislative branch hasn't been any more helpful than the executive.

Provisions in the Indian Land Consolidation Act, first passed in 1983, have been declared unconstitutional twice by the U.S. Supreme Court because they violated the property rights of individual Indians. Twenty years later, little has been done to clarify the matter, observers believe.

"Indian Country just basically cannot afford a repeat of that," said Cris Stainbrook, executive director of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a non-profit whose goal is to keep Indian land in Indian hands.

Amended in 2000, the act has become so confusing that the Interior hasn't certified it. Landowners, say government officials and Indian leaders, are scared they won't be able to pass on their property to direct descendants.

The first step in tackling these issues, the BIA believes, is to adopt a uniform probate code. Tribal organizations agree here although there is disagreement on the finer points of the code.

The second part is to consolidate small ownership interests. Again, the BIA and Indian Country share this goal but the methods diverge -- the BIA wants to be in charge while tribes and individual Indians want to control their own destinies.

The BIA plans to spend $21 million in fiscal year 2004 to expand a consolidation project. But the money is nowhere near enough, Nordwall admitted. It would take $144 million a year just to address the 12 reservations cited in the GAO report, he said.

To others, tribal self-determination is the key. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota came up with its own solution to address fractionation a half-century ago. The tribe purchases small parcels from willing sellers but tribal members still retain their interests by holding shares in a corporation-like entity.

This differs from the BIA program, under which individual Indians are effectively "closed" off and obtain no further benefit. The consolidated land is supposed to be transferred to tribal ownership.

Since 1988, the BIA has purchased about 40,000 interests in the Midwest. But an equal amount have been created so the net gain is zero, officials said.

"We're getting further behind," said Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles at a recent hearing. "We're not able to keep up."

Relevant Documents:
Report:Profile of Land Ownership at 12 Reservations (February 1992) | Testimony: GAO's Analysis of Land Ownership at 12 Reservations> (July 1992)

Related Stories:
Congress tackles trust land reform bill (5/6)
Bush land program called inadequate (5/6)
Accounting of trust land pushed (5/6)
Judge upholds ongoing trust relationship (04/29)
Bush administration turns to Congress on trust (04/04)
Appropriators question historical accounting plan (03/13)
Passive trust faces test in new Congress (11/25)
Senate approves omnibus Indian package (11/21)
Bill offers 'extinguishment' of trust fund claims (11/06)
Legislation to create a 'passive' Indian trust (10/18)
Take a pass on passive Indian trust (10/18)
Trust reform legislation sidetracked (10/17)
Tribes enter 'new phase' in trust reform battle (10/03)
Sparks fly at trust reform meeting (9/27)
Here comes BITAM all over again (9/27)
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 (05/23)
Interior considering a limited trust fund (3/15)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:

Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
President Obama invites Native youth to White House on July 9 (4/27)
Native Sun News: Author brings Lakota heritage to stewardship (4/27)
Lakota Country Times: Cobell scholarship fund being put to use (4/27)
Gabe Galanda: Even Hollywood is taking on tribal disenrollment (4/27)
Steve Russell: Same-sex marriage back before Supreme Court (4/27)
Terese Mailhot: The epidemic of early death on the reservation (4/27)
Jean-Luc Pierite: School makes bad choice with fake headdress (4/27)
Peter d'Errico: Pope fails to address genocide of Native peoples (4/27)
Choctaw Nation citizens slam Vanilla Ice's shaky ancestry claim (4/27)
Youth of Hoopa Valley Tribe speak out against marijuana grows (4/27)
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe might be interested in growing hemp (4/27)
Sparring continues in Wind River Reservation jurisdictional feud (4/27)
Oneida Nation faces questions over land-into-trust acquisitions (4/27)
Opinion: Deadline approaches in Alaska land-into-trust dispute (4/27)
Editorial: States need help dealing with newly recognized tribes (4/27)
Last defendant to be sentenced for Choctaw Nation casino fraud (4/27)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets hearing on labor measure (4/27)
Senate panel takes up bill to halt Tohono O'odham Nation casino (4/27)
Tiny Alturas Rancheria runs casino but can't agree on much else (4/27)
Dennis Whittlesey: Texas tribes are pawns in much larger game (4/27)
White House to host first-ever Native youth conference on July 9 (4/24)
Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne Tribe fires casino manager (4/24)
Lakota Country Times: Timothy Standing Soldier passes on at 54 (4/24)
Mark Trahant: Invest in our Native youth for long-term success (4/24)
James Giago Davies: True believerism and comic book solutions (4/24)
Brandon Ecoffey: Oglala Sioux Tribe must act on legal marijuana (4/24)
Ed Rice: Cleveland team comes up with excuse for racist mascot (4/24)
White House Blog: Recognizing tribal Climate Action Champions (4/24)
House subcommittee looks at poor conditions at Indian schools (4/24)
Navajo actress was put in darker makeup for Adam Sandler film (4/24)
Eastern Cherokee group plans lawsuit over tribal council raises (4/24)
Column: Commission takes on truth and reconciliation in Maine (4/24)
Senate votes to confirm Loretta Lynch as next attorney general (4/24)
ICT interview with confirmed NIGC Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri (4/24)
Dave Palermo: Tribes in California assert right to Internet poker (4/24)
Pokagon Band casino remains a concern for Indiana lawmakers (4/24)
Pojoaque Pueblo places casino manager on administrative leave (4/24)
White Earth Nation promotes tribal members in casino positions (4/24)
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux student vies for Miss Indian World (4/23)
Lakota Country Times: Tribal citizens named to education board (4/23)
Ivan Star: Struggling with the warrior heritage in Indian Country (4/23)
Dana Lone Elk: Lakota people still carry on fight of Crazy Horse (4/23)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee passes bill to renew NAHASDA (4/23)
BIA faces fire over latest reforms to federal recognition process (4/23)
Opinion: First Lady brings truth with remarks about Native youth (4/23)
Incoming leader of Navajo Nation stresses importance of youth (4/23)
Native actors storm off set of Adam Sandler film in New Mexico (4/23)
Marijuana seen as new frontier in tribal economic development (4/23)
Senate approves anti-trafficking measure with tribal provisions (4/23)
Interview with Gyasi Ross about spoken word release Isskootsik (4/23)
Blackfeet Nation launches campaign to ban drilling at sacred site (4/23)
Cherokee Nation celebrates births of first calves from bison herd (4/23)
Burns Paiute Tribe investigates fire that destroyed two bulidings (4/23)
Kaibab Paiute Tribe welcomes designation as 1st dark sky nation (4/23)
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.