indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
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:
Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux officer rejoins Rapid City police (10/30)
Mark Trahant: Native voters must be prepared on election day (10/30)
Kevin Gover: Mascot fight exposes myths about Native people (10/30)
Northern Arapaho Tribe: Newspaper got it wrong on joint council (10/30)
Peter d'Errico: Kevin Washburn honored by Indian law students (10/30)
Chris Deschene still urging Navajo Nation voters to choose him (10/30)
Tribes in North Carolina back Democrat Sen. Hagan in tight race (10/30)
NWPR: Tribes take steps to control growing herds of wild horses (10/30)
Opinion: Helping the Tongva people revive their own language (10/30)
Judge grants injunction to keep Chukchansi Tribe casino closed (10/30)
Tribes in South Dakota would benefit from gaming referendum (10/30)
Employee at Puyallup Tribe's casino gets wedding ring returned (10/30)
Editorial: Keep tribal casinos in California on existing Indian land (10/30)
Column: Menominee Nation off-reservation casino goes ignored (10/30)
Quapaw Tribe faces competition for Kansas commercial casino (10/30)
Native Sun News: Montana tribe sees cut in heating assistance (10/29)
Mark Trahant: Alaska Senate race is a real test of Native policy (10/29)
Winona LaDuke: Taking treaty advice from indigenous nations (10/29)
Vena A-Dae Romero: FDA failing to consult tribal governments (10/29)
Zachary Pullin: Native Americans overcame barriers to voting (10/29)
Navajo Nation president vetoes bill to address language issue (10/29)
Prairie Island Indian Community sues over nuclear waste rule (10/29)
County's letter on CSKT water compact talks stirs controversy (10/29)
Vice: Hip-hop artist Drezus on new journey after jail sentence (10/29)
Opinion: Overcoming stereotypes of Native American culture (10/29)
Charges sought in dispute at Chukchansi Tribe's closed casino (10/29)
Pechanga Band chair featured in ads against North Fork casino (10/29)
Grand Ronde Tribes continue fight against Cowlitz Tribe casino (10/29)
Puyallup Tribe offers reward for return of casino worker's ring (10/29)
Ask the Expert: Why can't I win at tribal casino slot machines? (10/29)
Native Sun News: Event commemorates Sand Creek Massacre (10/28)
Erma Vizenor: Join tribes for protest at NFL game in Minnesota (10/28)
Bill John Baker: Cherokee Nation helps build tomorrow's leaders (10/28)
Ruth Hopkins: Tribes need to raise awareness of breast cancer (10/28)
Navajo Nation election officials refuse to delay upcoming vote (10/28)
Senate candidates battle for Indian vote in South Dakota race (10/28)
Eastern Shawnee Tribe lays claim to former reservation in Ohio (10/28)
Saginaw Chippewa Tribe to investigate potential burial grounds (10/28)
Judge rules for tribes in Wyoming in dispute over diverted water (10/28)
Editorial: Delaware Tribe pursues return to homelands in Kansas (10/28)
Opinion: Cowboys and Indians come together on common cause (10/28)
Opinion: Help Moapa Band bring solar energy to more consumers (10/28)
Ex-employee sentenced for stealing from Passamaquoddy Tribe (10/28)
Chukchansi Tribe sends audits to NIGC as casino remains closed (10/28)
Little River Band still touting proposal for off-reservation casino (10/28)
Santee Sioux Tribe getting ready to debut golf course at casino (10/28)
Nisqually Tribe to launch part of $45M casino expansion project (10/28)
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.