About this Dashboard
This data dashboard, developed by the Native Lands Advocacy Project, summarizes allotment data for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Nebraska and made available to the public through the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office website.
About the Data
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), General Land Office (GLO) Records Automation web site provides live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1788 and the present.
Indian Patents: Under the general Allotment Act of February 8, 1887, and certain specific laws for named tribes, allotments of land on reservations were made to individual Native Americans residing on the land. There are two kinds of patents that allowed resale by the Native Americans:
- Indian Trust Patents were issued and held in trust for a period of twenty-five years. When the twenty-five years expired a direct sale of the land could be made.
- Indian Fee Patent was the actual title to the property of land entirely owned by an individual and their heirs.
Boundary data for this dashboard was generated from an algorithm that translates textual boundary descriptions into GIS-based boundary data. Its accuracy is dependent on the accuracy of the textual data and has not been verified against other data sets. Additionally, the dataset does not include lands that were issued fee patents and, while this dashboard shows all allotments persisting, the reality is that many allotments were later fee patented and then sold to non-natives.
Why is this Data and Dashboard Important?
Between the period of 1492 to 1887 Native Americans were left with a territory that consisted of only 150 million acres of land. Furthermore, the practice of communally managed lands by some tribes was viewed by the Federal Government as a non-productive and irrational use of resources. To address these interests, in 1887 the U.S. Congress passed General Allotment Act (GAA) also known as the Dawes Severalty Act. The purpose of the act was to liquidate Indian land holdings by dividing the land up into 40 to160-acre allotments to heads of households. After all the allotments were issued remaining lands in the West, which totaled over 60,000,000 acres, was opened up to homesteaders (Gibson, 1988).
Along with the liquidating nearly 2/3rds of all “surplus” Indian lands, the GAA also created several challenges for the use and inheritance of the remaining lands that would have deep implications in virtually all aspects of life for Native Americans:
- It broke apart communally managed lands into individually owned parcels destroyed the ability of many communities to be self sufficient on already limited and marginal lands.
- It disrupted traditional residency patterns, forcing people to live on allotments sometimes far from their relatives, eroding traditional kinship practices across many reservations.
- Forced Fee Patenting, introduced with the 1906 Burke Act, amended the GAA to give the secretary of the interior the power to issue Indian Allottees determined to be “competent,” fee patents making their lands subject to taxation and sale. According to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, nearly 27,000,000 acres of land was lost as a result. Although the practice of issuing forced fee patents and forced leasing ended in 1934 with the passing of the Wheeler-Howard Act, the effects are still felt today. In that many families are landless because an ancestor was issued a fee patent and lost their land through tax forfeit or bank foreclosure.
- Indian Allottees determined to be “incompetent, ” under the Burke Act, were not allowed to live on or utilize their allotment, instead it was leased out by the Federal Government to oil, timber, mineral, and grazing interests. In many cases, Allottees did not even receive the income from the leases. This practice was so widespread that a 1915 Department of the Interior, Annual Report of the Pine Ridge Agency, nearly 56% of its residents were deemed “incompetent.” The long-term affect of this practice was how it physically and psychologically alienated Indian Allottees from their lands. For example many families today own land but have never lived on it, used it or oftentimes, even know where it is located.
- Under the GAA the land allotted to Individual Indians is not really owned by them, rather it is held in Trust by the Federal Government. This means the land can be used by the Allottee but not sold. This situation has severely limited the ability of Indian landowners to develop assets on their lands including housing, business, and other infrastructure because they are not able to use it as a guarantee for loans.
- The GAA also established a system for how lands would be inherited from a landowner to his children. Since the practice of creating a Last Will and Testament before death was not common and in some cases was outright offensive to the traditional inheritance practices of some Native American cultures, these lands passed from one generation to the next without clear divisions of who owned what. After several generations lands have become so fractionated that you might have as many as several hundred landowners on one piece land. This has created a severe obstacle today for individuals and families wanting to utilize their lands as they need to get permission from at least 50% of the land owners on decisions related to the land.
- These are just a few of the obstacles created by the GAA and there exist numerous other obstacles at state, federal and even tribal levels.
The various structural, cultural, and social disruptions created by the GAA over the last century is an underlying cause of poverty on reservations today, negatively impacting housing construction, economic development, residency patterns, family and community cohesion, ecological health, cultural self-determination, and political sovereignty.
Reconstructing the timeline of allotment helps tribes, native land owners, and researchers to:
- Better understand the impact that various federal policies and local management decisions by government agents had on the practice of allotting lands to individual Native Americans.
- Better understand the practices and criteria government agents used when selecting particular lands for allotment.
- Reconstruct the chain of title for particular reservation lands.