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Land Loss

Grand Rush for the Indian TerritoryAs a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also called the Dawes Act), 90 million acres of Indian land—nearly two-thirds of the total Indian land base—were taken out of Indian ownership and control. From 1887 to 1934, 60 million acres of “surplus” Indian lands were sold or transferred to non-Indians and another 30 million acres were lost due to the 1906 Burke Act, forced sales and other takings. All of these alienated Indian lands remained within reservation boundaries but were no longer under Indian ownership and control. In the end, land that had been held in common by the entire tribe was now divided into a jumbled mix of trust lands, fee lands, and lands owned by the tribe, individual Indians and non-Indians.

Today, the loss of tribal lands combined with the mixed ownership patterns within reservation boundaries poses serious challenges for the sovereignty and self-determination of Indian nations. Loss of access to sacred and cultural sites makes it harder for each successive generation to remain rooted in Native culture. The checkerboard ownership pattern creates jurisdictional challenges and makes it very difficult to use reservation land for economic development. Billions of dollars in income are derived from these alienated lands, but the money goes off the reservation instead of to the Indian communities that need it most.

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