The General Allotment Act divided tribal lands and lead to many unintended consequences including the dramatic reduction of the amount of land owned by American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs).
Many years later, the federal government established the trust process in effort to help tribes regain lost lands and promote tribal self-determination. Most tribal lands today are trust lands, which are under the control of tribal governments.
There are currently over 56 million acres of land held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of AI/AN communities.
Fee Land vs. Trust Land
Fee land is under complete control of its owner, which can be an individual or an entity such as a tribe, who holds the title to it. Fee simple ownership is the highest form of property possession. The owner can use the land for any legal purpose.
Trust land is territory, whereby one party agrees to hold title to the property for the benefit of another party. Placing tribal land into a trust is the process where the Department of the Interior acquires the title to a land and holds it for the benefit of a tribe or individual tribal members.
There are many benefits to trust acquisitions for tribes.
The use of trust land is governed by tribes and generally not subject to state laws, though certain federal restrictions still apply. Many federal programs and services are also available only on trust lands.
Tribes may benefit from:
- New Market Tax Credits
- Indian Employment Tax Credits
- Tax-Exempt Financing
- Discounted Leasing Rates
- Federal Contracting Preferences
- Foreign Trade Zone Customs Duty Deferral, Elimination or Reduction
- State/County Land Use Exemption
- Accelerated Depreciation for Business Property on Indian Reservations
These benefits have allowed tribes to enhance housing opportunities for their members, realize the energy development capacity on their lands, negotiate the use and sale of the natural resources, and protect tribal ways of life including subsistence hunting and agriculture.
How to Convert Land
All federally recognized American Indian tribes and individuals are eligible to apply for a fee-to-trust land acquisition. An applicant must submit a specific written request for the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the benefit of an applicant. Tribes may submit a tribal resolution to satisfy this requirement.
The request must be submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Trust Services.