Land Politics

When
I was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota a few years back I
wondered why there seemed to be so many white-owned ranches on
ostensibly native land. Turns out the feds lease the land to the
whites, and pass along the check along to the true owners. (Well, some
of it at least – remember the billions of dollars of native money they
“lost”?) This from an op-ed in the Times:

As
the land under their control dwindled, they presumed that Indians were
not “competent? to own land outright. It had to be placed under the
agency’s own enlightened trusteeship. They kept allotting parcels of
this “trust land? to individual Indians, but an Indian couldn’t sell or
lease his parcel without permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The
rules discouraged sales and encouraged parcels of land to be passed on
to multiple heirs. Today it’s common to find a tract with dozens or
hundreds of owners. Instead of inheriting the family ranch, which they
could work themselves or use as collateral to start another business,
these Indians inherit the right to collect checks from the federal
bureaucrats who lease their land to others, usually non-Indians. …

Some
Indians are trying to go back to the old system, but it’s not easy, as
Gus Gardner has discovered. For five years he has been hoping to
exchange his trust lands – tiny portions of more 100 different tracts
on the Crow reservation – for one big piece of land for his own cattle
ranch. But he figures the paperwork involved will take at least another
three years. …

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Author: Rob Goodspeed