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10th Circuit won't allow Miami Nation to consolidate allotment

Indian land consolidation has been a policy of the federal government for decades but one Oklahoma tribe is having trouble fulfilling that goal.

James Smith, a member of the Miami Nation, owns a 3/38 interest in a 35-acre allotment in Kansas. He wanted to gift his interest to the tribe but the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected his application, saying it would lead to further fractionation of the allotment, also known as the Maria Christiana Reserve.

In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the BIA. Even though the Indian Land Consolidation Act encourages consolidation between individual Indians and tribes, the court said the policy only applies in cases where a tribe exercises jurisdiction over the land.

"Congress abrogated Miami Tribe’s jurisdiction over the Reserve over a century ago," the court wrote.

The court noted that all of owners of the Maria Christiana Reserve are tribal members and that they have worked closely with the tribe on law enforcement and economic development. But that doesn't mean the tribe exercises sovereign authority over the land, according to the 10th Circuit.

"In sum, the tribe lacks jurisdiction over the Reserve as required by the ILCA," the court said.

The Maria Christiana Reserve has over 20 owners, the court noted, although the BIA admitted it was "not entirely clear" how the parcel became so fractionated. Each owner possesses an undivided fee interest in the allotment.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Miami Nation v. US.

Get the Story:
Court tells Miami Tribe of Oklahoma tribe it can't use Kansas land for gambling (AP 8/30)

10th Circuit Decision:
Miami Nation v. US (August 30, 2011)

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