Roundup of Native American News, February 25, to March 2, 2024

WASHINGTON Federal Indian reservation lands are controlled and profitable for ten US states. The general consensus is that all land inside Indian reserve boundaries is held in trust by the United States government for the sole benefit of the tribes. This week, 10 state governments have been given trust over 647,500 hectares (1.6 million acres) of surface and subsurface land inside 83 federal Indian reservations, according to reports from nonprofit online news magazine Grist and High Country News. The state-run mining, logging, grazing, and leasing operations yield millions of money that are utilized to fund non-Indigenous institutions like public schools, jails, and colleges, while tribes have little to no control over how the lands are used.


The General Allotment Act, often known as the Dawes Act, was approved by Congress in 1887 and divided reservations into smaller portions that were distributed to families and individuals. The remaining property, which totaled roughly 90 million acres or 36,400,000 hectares, was either sold or made available to American states, settlers, and federal initiatives like state parks. There is no incentive for states to return land to tribes “without something in exchange,” as they are legally required to profit from state trust holdings. Certain tribes have negotiated the return of their land, including the Kootenai Tribes in Montana and the Confederated Salish. Parcel by parcel, others have repurchased land.


This week, ProPublica reports on two museums that have complied with the majority, if not all, of their obligations under the 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). NAGPRA prohibits federally funded institutions from holding onto human remains and artifacts without tribal permission. This is part of ProPublica’s ongoing series investigating institutions’ failure to comply with NAGPRA. These are the History Colorado Center in Denver and the Museum of Us in San Diego, California. Both organizations cataloged their collections before other organizations did, and they also spoke with tribes to determine the best way to handle and return bones and funerary artifacts to their original owners.

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