Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Introduction to Tribal Concepts

Allotted Land

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The term "allotted land" refers to land owned by individual Indians that is either held in trust by the United States or is subject to a statutory restriction on sale or other forms of alienation (conveyance or transference of property to another). Most allotted lands are the result of allotment laws that the U.S. government passed in the late 1800s and early 1900s that mandated the subdivision of Indian reservations. These statutes decreed that reservations be broken up and the land divided into parcels, or "allotments," to be assigned to the heads of Indian households or single individuals, the "allottees."

The best known of the allotment statutes is the 1887 General Allotment Act (commonly called the Dawes Act). The Dawes Act and other Indian allotment statutes were designed to dissolve tribal collective control of reservations and to assimilate tribal members into mainstream American society by teaching them the importance of private property and farming. After assigning parcels from reservation lands to individual tribal members, the remaining "surplus" lands were opened to non-Indian settlement. The parcels assigned to tribal members were to be held in trust by the U.S. for a period of time, usually 25 years, although this time period could be extended or shortened, after which title was to pass to the Indian owners in fee simple. Owning their lands in fee simple meant that the Indian owners could sell their lands without federal approval. It also meant these lands could be taxed. Financial pressures and unscrupulous land speculators caused many allottees to sell their fee parcels. Many other allotments were lost due to sale for unpaid taxes.

The opening up of reservation lands to non-Indian settlement and the sale of Indian allotments caused a dramatic decline in the total amount of Indian lands in the U.S. The practice of allotment ended in the 1930s with the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act, which halted further allotments, stopped any remaining allotments from converting into fee simple status, and continued the trust status of existing allotments indefinitely. The Indian Reorganization Act remains in effect.

Today, many reservations contain both Indian allotments and fee lands, owned by both Indian and non-Indian owners, within their borders. This combination of land holdings has resulted in a checkerboard pattern of ownership within many reservation boundaries.

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