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Rockys Boy PanoramicThe Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) originated in the 1990s when a group of concerned Indian landowners, land rights advocates, and tribal leaders came together to do something about the serious problems affecting Indian land tenure—the terms and conditions by which Indians hold land. From their own experiences living and working in Indian Country, these individuals saw firsthand the many challenges and injustices Indian people were facing in respect to the ownership and management of their lands. They saw that:

  • Indian lands were continuing to be lost to non-Indian ownership
  • The fractionated ownership of Indian land title was making it increasingly difficult for Native people to use and benefit from their lands
  • The federal system set up to manage and protect Indian trust lands and assets was causing Indian landowners to lose income from leases and other earnings
  • The laws, policies and regulations dealing with Indian lands were inconsistent, often unjust and, in some cases, unconstitutional

At the time, organizations such as the Indian Land Working Group, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Intertribal GIS, Native American Community Development Corporation, Indian Law Resource Center and others were working independently on specific aspects of Indian land tenure. However, even though these groups were making a difference in certain areas, a coordinated and focused effort was really needed to resolve the major Indian land tenure issues over the long term.

To address this need, in 1998, the Northwest Area Foundation provided technical and financial support to assist the Indian land tenure community (some of whom were either staff or board members of the organizations mentioned above) with a planning process to clarify the community’s goals and to develop a broad-based strategic plan. Four years later in 2002, the Northwest Area Foundation provided a $20 million grant to create the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, with a mission to ensure that:

Land within the original boundaries of every reservation and other areas of high significance where tribes retain aboriginal interest are in Indian ownership and management.

Recognizing that Indian land tenure involves a complex set of related issues, ILTF identified four overall strategies to address each major area of concern. The strategies are: education, cultural awareness, economic opportunity and legal reform. As ILTF works toward its goals of land recovery and increased Indian ownership and control of Indian land and assets, it has continued to promote the following principles:

  • Inclusion of diverse voices and interests from throughout the Indian land community
  • Self-determination of tribes and Indian people
  • Knowledge and the ability to take action

Since inception, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation has awarded more than $12.7 million in grants and contracts and has provided $11.7 million in direct program services.* ILTF continues to expand its grantmaking capabilities through its investments and the generous support of foundations, Indian nations, corporations and individual donors.

*As of December 2015