The purpose of the Native Land Information System (NLIS) is to compile, consolidate and visualize data and information that Indigenous people of North American need to protect their lands and resources and plan for the future. 

Overview of the Native Land Information System (NLIS)

The Native Land Information System (NLIS) was developed by the Native Lands Advocacy Project (NLAP); a project of Village Earth, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Fort Collins, Colorado, with funding from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. The NLIS serves as repository of learning resources, information, and data to help defend and protect native lands for the benefit of native peoples. 

"The colonial world is a world divided into compartments...Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized."

Frantz Fanon

Table of Contents

This quote summarizes well the strategy of the Native Lands Advocacy Project. For Native Americans, these compartments are the reservation, the district, the allotment, the township, the section and the tract. All of these compartments serve as wedges to divide native people by superimposing a land tenure system that understands land purely as a commodity and detached from a cultural or spiritual connection. It is a land tenure system that places primacy on the western construct of the individual and nuclear family, which over time grinds away at the bonds of extended families, bands, tribes, etc. and prevents the development of alternative land uses and views. In brief, it is a historically-constructed colonial system that continues to destroy native rights to live on their land as they see fit.

An important word in Fanon’s quote is “system.” The “system” cannot be revealed looking at each compartment individually. Rather, we must step-back and look at how all the compartments connect over time to reveal the underlying system. This is an important goal of the NLIS: we present the data on native lands in aggregate and within historical context. By understanding the “system” and how it works in details, we can develop more effective strategies to transform it into a support structure that promotes the well being and sovereignty of native peoples.

Click here to learn more about our position on data sovereignty

Empowering Native Control of Land Through Data

"[D]ata are the building blocks of good governance; however, equal access to these data is not guaranteed. Tribes may not have ready access to the data collected by external agents about their citizens, lands, and resources, which underscores the need for tribal protection, ownership and application of tribal data"

National Congress of American Indians - Support of US Indigenous Data Sovereignty and Inclusion of Tribes in the Development of Tribal Data

Much of the data about native lands and native peoples is collected and maintained by the United States Government, however much of this data is not readily available to tribes and native peoples. Established in 1824, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for the administration and management of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates held in trust by the United States for American Indian, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. Despite this huge responsibility, there is very little transparency or accountability when it comes to the BIA’s performance as Trustee. According to a 2009 Program Evaluation of the BIA Realty and Trust Program (the most recent) by the Department of Interior’s office, the Inspector General acknowledged that “The BIA Realty and Trust Program plays a key role in keeping the DOI promise “to protect and improve the trust assets of American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.” yet he excoriated the Bureau for its continued failure to develop meaningful performance measures. Specifically, the report states that in “Real Estate Services, acquisition and disposal of land and lease compliance activities are significant functions that also lack measures.” The failure of the BIA to provide even basic information about leasing and transactions of Native lands makes public scrutiny of these programs difficult, if not impossible.

Land Acknowledgement

Although our work spans across all US Native Lands, we are based in Fort Collins, Colorado and acknowledge, with respect, that the land we are on is the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations and peoples. This was also a site of trade, gathering, and healing for numerous other Native tribes. We recognize the Indigenous peoples as original stewards of this land and all the relatives within it. We also acknowledge that the treaties from which these lands were ceded were negotiated unfairly, were repeatedly broken by the United States Government and the damages inflicted upon the Tribes involved has never been repaired. 

Contested Land Cessions

Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 – Guaranteed the Cheyenne and Arapaho control over a 62 million acre territory spanning from From the Arkansas River in Colorado to the North Platte River in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

Treaty of Fort Wise, February 18th, 1861 – After the US Government failed to prevent settlers from streaming across the 1851 Treaty Territory and several years of related warfare, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Signed the Treaty of Fort Wise. The treaty was rushed by the then Commissioner of Indian Affairs and was signed despite the protestations of Chief Black Kettle who argued it violated Cheyenne protocol which required all 44 Cheyenne Chiefs to be in agreement. In exchange for this vast land base, the tribes agreed to relocate to a 4 million acre reservation located along Sand Creek and the Arkansas River east of the present-day towns of Pueblo and Colorado Springs in exchange for the Government providing, among other things, housing, farm implements, livestock, schooling, and a $30,000 annuity payment for fifteen year (Article IV). The US Government never honored its obligations defined in the treaty and as a result nearly starved the Tribes to death, according to Major Scott Anthony in November 1863, “The Indians are all very destitute this season, and the government will be compelled to subsist them to a great extent, or allow them to starve to death, which would probably be the easier way of disposing of them.” As things got more desperate for their people, many of the warriors began raiding nearby communities and rumor began to spread about a large scale uprising.

Treaty lands defined in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty (green), 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise (blue) and contemporary Reservation lands (red). Data from From Charles Royce, “Indian Land Cessions,” Bureau of American Ethnology. Eighteenth annual report … 1896-’97. pt. 2,T and the US Census Bureau. 

Sand Creek Massacre, November 29th, 1864. Nearly 700 members of mostly the Colorado Calvary raided a peaceful village on the reservation at Sand Creek and killed at least 200 men, women and children. The massacre was investigated by the War Department and then Governor Evans was ordered by the President to resign. On December 15th, 2014 the Governor of Colorado finally issued a formal apology to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. 

October 14th, 1865 – Little Arkansas Treaty. Cheyenne and Arapaho and US Government officials convened to formalize reparations for the Sand Creek Massacre and arrange the establishment of a new reservation in it what is now western Oklahoma. The Little Arkansas Treaty granted land to the heirs of individuals killed during the massacre and promised an annuity payment of $20 per capita until they are removed to the new reservation and $40 after they are removed for a and for a total period of 40 years. This treaty lasted only two years with the government failing to provide annuities, land or establish a reservation and which renewed conflict. 

October 28th, 1867 – Medicine Lodge Treaty. The medicine lodge treaty was signed to quell conflict between Tribes and settlers. Contemporary investigations would attribute the conflict to “unrestrained settlers, miners, and army personnel as the chief instigators of Indian hostility,”  The Treaty established a reservation in Kansas but the Tribes did not approve of the land so in 1869 they were granted a different reservation in what is now Oklahoma totally approximately 5,194,716 acres. The agreement also guaranteed there would be no further land cessions without signature of 3/4 majority of all adult males. 

November, 1890 Agreement with the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The government was eager to open up Cheyenne and Arapaho lands to settlers. In July of 1890 they proposed a plan to a commission of chiefs and it was rejected. Not satisfied with the outcome government agents set out to collect signatures from Tribal members one-by-one. Despite repeated claims of fraud and bribery, by November 1890 the government announced it had enough signatures for the agreement to pass. As a results 4,608,878 (88%) of their lands were opened up to white settlement and received only $1.5 million dollars compensation. In 1951 the tribes submitted a claim to the Indian Claims Commission and it was decided that the lands were actually worth $23 million at the time and the tribes eventually settled for $15 million. Today the US Government serves as trustee of approximately 93,000 acres for the two Tribes.

Development Team

David Bartecchi
David Bartecchi

Executive Director, Village Earth
Director, NLAP

Aude Chesnais, Ph.D.
Aude Chesnais, Ph.D.

Senior Researcher, NLAP