500,000+ Acres Returned to Native Control Under the Obama Administration

The Obama is taking heat to intervene in the Dakota Access Pipeline (the latest email to hit our inbox was an effort to have the President declare Standing Rock a National Monument.) While Standing Rock is an absolutely critical issue, let’s not overlook a major accomplishment of this administration: it put 542,000 acres back into Native hands (yes, still technically land held in federal trust for Native nations). The largest chunks of returned lands were in western states. To put it in some perspective, if combined, it would be a chunk of land roughly 29 miles by 29 miles, or nearly 850 square miles — an area larger than Hennepin and Ramsey counties combined.The Department of Interior issued a media release on Oct. 12 (Indigenous Peoples Day) that read: Obama Administration Exceeds Ambitious Goal to Restore 500,000 Acres of Tribal Homelands. It said:

“Restoring tribal homelands has been a pillar of President Obama’s commitment to support tribal self-determination and self-governance, empowering tribal leaders to build stronger, more resilient communities,” [U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally] Jewell said. “The Administration broke the logjam on trust land applications in 2009 and has worked steadily, collaboratively and effectively to restore Native lands that will help strengthen tribal economies and make their nations whole again.”

The 500,000 acre goal was surpassed Friday when President Obama signed into law the bipartisan Nevada Native Nations Lands Act, which conveys more than 71,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands to the U.S. Department of the Interior to place into federal trust status for six Nevada tribes.

Kevin Washburn, former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, wrote a piece adding more details. Washburn, now Regents Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico, posted a piece headlined: Indian Country Returns to a New State (and Indiana’s Name Makes Sense Again). It said the total number of acres had reached 542,000 acres:

While all eyes are on Standing Rock, the Obama Administration Indian Affairs team is quietly continuing its incredible efforts to restore Indian lands to tribes. Just before Thanksgiving, Acting Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Larry Roberts took into trust 165 acres of land for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians in South Bend, Indiana.

Ordinarily, a modest-sized acreage like this small parcel would not make significant news. … The striking fact about this latest decision by the Assistant Secretary, though, is that it restores tribal land in a new state that has not had Indian trust land for many decades and addresses a longstanding fraud on the American people and the world.

Yes, as it turns out, the State of Indiana has been perpetrating a fraud for many years. Did you know, that until last week, Indiana, which literally means “land of the Indians” had no Indian lands? Well, this problem has been corrected and we may all now relax. The State of Indiana’s name now makes sense again. No more disappointed German tourists landing at Indianapolis International Airport, being laughed at when they say “take me to an Indian reservation.” All Indianans can once again hold their heads high.

Well done!

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