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Trust Relationship

Navajo Reservation entrance signThe 56 million acres of reservation land currently under Indian ownership are held in trust for Indian people by the federal government. Consequently, approval by the secretary of the interior is required for nearly all land use decisions, such as selling, leasing or business development. This adds multiple layers of red tape that can severely hinder land use and management. Many Indian landowners cannot even locate their lands, and land management decisions are commonly made without their consent.

Under the federal trust system, the U.S. government is responsible for the protection of Indian interests: assets, lands, water, income from trust property, and proprietary treaty rights. However, the federal government has not always fulfilled its obligations as trustee. In fact, its gross mishandling of the trust system has led to the loss of billions of dollars of income, mostly from improperly managed agricultural, forestry and mineral leases on these lands and the resulting proceeds.

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