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Checkerboarding

Rosebud CheckerboardingIndian lands that were alienated as a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also called the Dawes Act) were sold or transferred to non-Indian parties but remained within reservation boundaries. As a result, trust lands, fee lands, and lands owned by tribes, individual Indians and non-Indians are mixed together on the reservation, creating a checkerboard pattern.

Checkerboarding seriously impairs the ability of Indian nations or individual Indians to use land to their own advantage for farming, ranching, or other economic activities that require large, contiguous sections of land. It also hampers access to lands that the tribe owns and uses in traditional ways.

Jurisdictional challenges are common on checkerboard reservations, as different governing authorities—such as county, state, federal, and tribal governments—claim the authority to regulate, tax, or perform various activities within reservation borders. Often these different claims to authority conflict, which can create economic uncertainty, racial tension, and community clashes within or near the reservation. To complicate the matter even further, the case law relevant to jurisdiction on Indian land is highly complex and on some points inconsistent and unsettled.

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