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Land Exchange and Consolidation

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Land exchanges are one of the most important tools that individuals have in overcoming the challenges of fractionated ownership. A land exchange allows landowners to consolidate their multiple undivided interests so that they can either gain a larger share of an allotment or an entire tract of land. The more interest a landowner has in a tract of land, the more control he or she has over land use decisions, such as building a home, farming, leasing or starting a business. An Application for Exchange of Indian Land usually has to be approved by both the BIA and the tribal government and is subject to the terms in the Code of Federal Regulations, 25 CFR 151.7 and 151.10. Tribal regulations on exchangeable and non-exchangeable land may vary from reservation to reservation. As such, the form for land exchanges will also vary somewhat, depending upon each tribe’s land use priorities and plans. It should also be noted that land exchanges may not be possible on all reservations.

Steps in the Process
Landowners interested in applying for a land exchange should first obtain and read a copy of their ITI Report to determine the lands available to be exchanged. The next step is to visit either the tribal land office or BIA realty office to find out what lands can be acquired in the exchange. Not all tribal land is available for exchange. Some of the lands that are generally not available include:

  • Areas around towns
  • Park and recreation areas
  • Commercial and industrial areas
  • Historical and religious sites
  • Archaeological sites
  • Potential tourist attraction sites
  • Timber reserve lands
  • Large consolidated tracts

Landowners who are exchanging for land in an allotment where they are not already a co-owner will need to acquire the consent of all of the owners in the allotment. (The BIA can provide names and contact information for all of the owners.) When contacting the other owners, it is important to make them aware that if their undivided interest is not part of the exchange, the size of their interest and the income they receive will not be affected by the exchange. Ultimately, this is a good deal for everyone because the fewer owners there are, the easier it is to do anything with the land.

Once all of the signatures are collected (unless the exchange is for tribal land or land where the landowner is already a co-owner) the application is submitted to the tribal land office or BIA realty office. They will submit the application to the BIA area office, along with a Title Status Report (TSR) and other documentation, and request an appraisal to determine the value of the properties. It should be noted that even if equal amounts of land are being exchanged (i.e. 1/16 for 1/16) they may not be equal in value. Occasionally, landowners will have to pay some amount of money (in cash) to make up the difference. If the application is approved, the BIA realty office will make the necessary changes to the land ownership files. These changes will appear on the landowners ownership documents such as the ITI Report and the IIM Statement of Account.

Length of Time
Because of the multiple levels of approval and processing, land exchanges can take a long time to complete. For example, according to a recent study, the average time required to complete a land exchange on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is 4.5 years.