ASSISTANT SECRETARY – INDIAN AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
SENATE COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES SENATE
A PATH FORWARD: TRUST MODERNIZATION & REFORM FOR INDIAN LANDS
JULY 8, 2015
Chairman Barrasso, Vice Chairman Tester, and Members of the Committee, my name is Kevin
Washburn and I am the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior
(Department). Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony for the Department for this
oversight hearing titled “A Path Forward: Trust Modernization & Reform for Indian Lands.”
One of the Obama Administration’s highest priorities is to restore tribal homelands by taking
lands into trust for tribes. Our work to restore Tribal lands was explicitly authorized by
Congress in Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Under this authority, the
Obama Administration has taken more than 300,000 acres of land into trust for tribes since 2009.
Much remains to be done in this area, of course, and a clean Carcieri fix is a necessary requisite
to providing land in trust for all tribes.
Of course the Administration’s settlement of the Cobell lawsuit produced an expansive trust land
initiative for tribes to ameliorate the problems associated with fractionated parcels of trust lands.
In the legislation enacting the Cobell settlement, Congress authorized the Department to spend
approximately $1.55 billion to consolidate fractionated trust interests. The Department has
purchased the equivalent of roughly 900,000 acres of fractionated lands and restored it to tribes.
These are historic efforts to modernize our relationship to tribes by correcting past mistakes in
The Indian Reorganization Act
In 1887, Congress enacted the General Allotment Act. The General Allotment Act divided tribal
land into 80- and 160-acre parcels for individual tribal members. The allotments to individuals
were to be held in trust for the Indian owners for no more than 25 years, after which the owner
would hold fee title to the land. So-called “surplus lands,” that is, those lands that were not
allotted to individual members, were taken out of tribal ownership and conveyed to non-Indians.
Moreover, many of the allotments provided to Indian owners fell out of Indian ownership
through tax foreclosures, particularly during the Great Depression.
The General Allotment Act resulted in an enormous loss of tribally owned lands, and is
responsible for the current “checkerboard” pattern of ownership and jurisdiction on many Indian
reservations. Approximately 2/3 of tribal lands, amounting to more than tens of millions of acres,
were lost as a result of the land divestment policies established by the General Allotment Act and…..
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