Photo courtesy House Committee on Natural Resources, Democrats
Chair Grijalva Hails Secretarial Order & Legal Decisions Streamlining Federal Ability to Take Land Into Trust, Empower Tribal Economic Development
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona) today hailed a new secretarial order from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and a series of legal decisions by the Solicitor’s office that, taken together, simplify the process by which the federal government takes land into trust on behalf of Tribal governments, eliminate needless Trump-era bureaucracy and empower tribes to pursue economic development.

Haaland today issued Secretarial Order 3400, which re-delegates the authority to review and approve applications to place land into trust to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regional directors, excluding decisions related to gaming applications. The order reverses a 2017 Trump-era order elevating land-into-trust decisions to the Department’s headquarters staff, which caused delays and made the process opaque for tribes seeking straightforward explanations of land-into-trust decisions.

Also today, the Solicitor issued M-37070 and withdrew M-37054 and M-37055, which created an unnecessarily complicated process for Tribes seeking to place land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. The office reinstated a previous opinion known as M-37029, which outlines a reasonable Tribal process for land into trust applications.

The Solicitor also withdrew M-37064, which falsely concluded that the Secretary of the Interior does not have discretionary authority to take land into trust for tribes in Alaska, despite the pre-existence of a separate formal rule providing this exact authority. The elimination of M-37064 and today’s promulgation of the new M-37069 clearly establish Secretary Haaland’s and her successors’ authority under the IRA to take land in Alaska into trust for the benefit of Alaska Tribes.

“This makes the process easier for Tribal communities looking to expand their economies, increase their land base and control their own futures,” Grijalva said. “Indian Country needs land-intro-trust decisions to be based on genuine consultation, which the Trump administration routinely ignored. Tribal communities around the country just want the same transparency and legal equity many of us so often take for granted, and today’s steps are a big part of granting those reasonable requests.”

Relevant Biden Administration Documents
M-37069: Withdrawal of M-37064 and Announcement of Consultation on the Department’s Interpretation of the Indian Reorganization Act and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in Connection with the Secretary’s Land into Trust Authority (April 27, 2021)
M-37070: Withdrawal of Certain Solicitor M-Opinions, Reinstatement of Sol. Op. M-37029 The Meaning of ‘Under Federal Jurisdiction’ for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act, and Announcement Regarding Consultation on “Under Federal Jurisdiction” Determinations (April 27, 2021)
Secretarial Order: Delegation of Authority for Non-Gaming Off-Reservation Fee-to-Trust Acquisitions (April 27, 2021)

Withdrawn Trump Administration Documents
M-37054: Interpreting the Second Definition of “Indian” in Section 19 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (March 9, 2020)
M-37055: Withdrawal of Solicitor’s Opinion M-37029. “The Meaning of ‘Under Federal Jurisdiction’ for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act” (March 9, 2020)
M-37064: Permanent Withdrawal of Solicitor Opinion M-37043, “Authority to Acquire Land into Trust in Alaska” (January 19, 2021)

Related Stories
Interior: Secretary Deb Haaland takes action for tribal homelands (April 27, 2021)