Fee to Trust Land Acquisition for Tribes

What is Fee to Trust Land Acquisition?

When a tribe pursues fee-to-trust acquisition, it means they are seeking to convert land that is currently owned privately or by the state into land held in trust by the federal government specifically for the tribe. By placing the land into trust, the federal government acknowledges the tribal sovereignty and the inherent rights of the tribe over that land.

Benefits of Fee to Trust Land Acquisition

Fee to trust land acquisition has several benefits to tribes. These benefits include: 

  • Consolidation of tribal land base and prevention of further tribal land loss
  • No state property tax
  • No state regulatory jurisdiction
  • Increased tribal regulatory jurisdiction
  • Enhanced housing opportunities for tribe members
  • Increased energy development capacity 
  • Allows tribes to enter into leases and grant rights-of-way
  • Protection for traditional cultural properties and subsistence resources

What is the Fee to Trust Land Acquisition Process

  • The tribe submits an application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The application includes documentation about the land, environmental site assessments, how utilities and other governmental services will be provided, and other information to support the land acquisition. 
  • The BIA reviews the application and conducts an evaluation to determine if the acquisition meets the requirements in 25 C.F.R. Part 151. 
  • If there are no objections to the acquisition of the land into trust after a notice period, inspections are finalized, and the BIA accepts the fee into trust request, title to the land will then be transferred to the federal government in trust on behalf of the tribe and recorded in the Federal Register. 

The land becomes part of the tribe’s territorial jurisdiction, and the federal government holds the land title in trust for the benefit of the tribe. This means that the tribe has exclusive tribal jurisdiction and control over the land, and it can exercise its rights to self-governance, natural resource management, and economic development on that land without interference from the state.

The attorneys at mctlaw can facilitate several components of this process, including the documentation and application submission process, and negotiations with the local, state, and federal governments.

History of Fee to Trust Land Acquisition

Historically, tribes lost a significant portion of their ancestral lands through forced removals, treaties, federal takings, and allotting. As a result, many tribes were left with limited and fractionated land bases and faced challenges in maintaining their cultural identity and exercising their self-governance rights. Fee-to-trust land acquisition is a mechanism to address some of these issues.

Our team of experienced Indian Law attorneys can help with matters like: 

Content Reviewed by Jeffrey Nelson – Indian Law

Attorney Jeffrey Nelson Headshot

Jeffrey Nelson leads the Firm’s  Indian Law Group, He’s spent  over 20 years of experience working in Washington, DC on Indian law and litigation matters, including as a Senior Attorney at the National Indian Gaming Commission and as an Assistant Solicitor at the Department of Interior. Jeff now represents tribes across the country on Indian gaming and tribal governance matters. He also serves as the Assistant Attorney General for the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. Jeff earned his law degree at the University of Michigan Law School in 1997 and an LL.M. in Advocacy from Georgetown University Law Center in 1999.

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