Echo Hawk points to big increase in land-into-trust approval

The Obama administration has put the land-into-trust process back on track, Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk told the National Congress of American Indians on Wednesday.

The process ground to a halt during the Bush administration, Echo Hawk said at NCAI's 2012 executive council winter session in Washington, D.C. Less than 15,000 acres were placed in trust in 2007 and 2008, he said.

But since President Barack Obama came on board, the picture has changed. Over 158,000 acres have been placed in trust since January 2009, Echo Hawk said.

"We've had to get that system up and running again," Echo Hawk said.

The directive came from the top, Echo Hawk said. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar met early on with the regional directors of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to ensure they were taking action on land-into-trust applications.

"What we're trying to do is institutionalize the process," Echo Hawk said.

Salazar will once again meet with regional directors on March 28 in DC. "It's to give them another charge" to improve the process, Echo Hawk said.

Between 1887 and 1934, when the land-into-trust process was authorized by an act of Congress, tribes lost 90 million acres due to federal policies such as allotment. Since 1934, tribes have reacquired about nine million acres.

"Land is sacred," Echo Hawk told tribal leaders. "This was once our land."

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