Native American Indian Tribes Buying Up Land


Native American tribes are buying back the land where their ancestors once lived and putting it in federal trust as a way to regain control of the land. Tribes put more than 840,000 acres – roughly the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island – into trust from 1998 to 2007, according to information The Associated Press obtained from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act.

The rise in a tribe’s financial fortunes as a result of the major expansion in the size of the reservation can give tribes a major influence on the future development of an area.

Tribal membership has been growing and that has created a greater need for land for housing, community services and economic development.

Native Americans say the purchases will help protect their culture and way of life by preserving burial grounds and areas where sacred rituals are held. They also provide land for farming, timber and other efforts to make the tribes self-sustaining.
Learning to  grow their own foods gives people the opportunity to eat healthier food and enjoy the fruits of their labors  by providing  “a hand up instead of a hand out” .  It also provides an opportunity to  share with others which instills a sense of pride while encouraging camaraderie when working with others for a common goal.

Buying  property is the quickest and easiest way for tribes to regain control of their land to preserve our culture, our way of life and our traditions.


Thirty to 40 tribes are making enough money from casinos to buy back land while also putting money into social programs, education and health care for their members.

Today, 562 federally recognized tribes have more than 55 million acres held in trust. A few of the tribes that have already begun  buying back land include:

  • The Oneida Indian Nation was in the forefront of  efforts to buy back land. After the opening of Turning Stone Casino, the Oneidas in the 1990s began to buy back thousands of acres in parcels that they had once owned in western Oneida County and eastern Madison County.
  • Three tribes have bought land around Bear Butte in South Dakota’s Black Hills to keep it from developers eager to cater to the thousands of bikers who roar into Sturgis for the annual road rally. (About 17 tribes from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma still use the mountain for religious ceremonies!)
  • The Winnebago, who have put more than 700 acres in eastern Nebraska in federal trust in the past five years, and the Pawnee, who have 1,600 acres of trust land in Oklahoma. Land held in federal trust is exempt from local and state laws and taxes, but subject to most federal laws. (Putting land in trust means that local governments must still provide services such as sewer and water even though they can’t collect taxes on the property*.)
  • The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe purchased former reservation land with proceeds from gaming activities and are placing this land in trust. (By 1910, 61,000 acres of trust land had been reduced to 200 acres for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. In 1990, trust lands for the Mille Lacs Band grew to 2,500 acres and by the end of 1996 to 12,000 acres!)
  • The Narragansett Indian Tribe bought land  in 1991, to use for “economic development” and housing for the elderly and poor.
  • The Tonto Apache Tribe, gathered at  the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino to celebrate  the addition of 292 acres of federal trust land to the tribe’s 85-acre reservation  which would provide enough land to gather together scattered families and to begin thinking again in terms of generations.
  • The nonprofit White Earth Land Recovery Project in northwestern Minnesota created in the late 1980s, uses the hundreds of acres they have bought back to harvest rice, farm and produce maple syrup. Members have hope of one day being self-sustaining again.

Land held in trust is essentially free from state and local law:

  • cannot be taxed by a county to pay for public services. (Local governments  don’t collect taxes on the property but still provide services such as sewer and water .)
  • can free casino income to stimulate development for major projects.
  • is not subject to the zoning and “land use” laws of towns or even municipal ordinances

*When the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in 2005 that non-reservation Oneida Indian Nation land was subject to state and local taxation and regulation, the Oneida Indian Nation sought federal trust status for its land. This resulted in a 2008 decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to place about 13,000 acres of the Oneidas’ land into trust – 8,800 acres in Oneida County and the rest in Madison County. Although the  state, as well as Madison and Oneida counties, filed a federal lawsuit in 2008 to block the Interior Department’s decision in September 2009, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn ruled that placing the land into trust is not unconstitutional.

See also

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