Believe it or not, land is one of the most underutilized resources available to Plains Indian Tribes and Tribal members. And unlike other sources of income, sustainable land utilization can bolster Tribal sovereignty, self-determination and cultural revitalization. Consider these statistics, according to the Indian Land Working Group, 6 of the 9 million acres of Indian Lands suitable for agriculture in the United States are leased to non-native and consequently, non-natives collect 92% of all agricultural income generated on these lands.
The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease their lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land,” and dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country (Source:LLRP).
These policies have meant that the Indian landowners across the country have been separated from their allotted lands, in many cases, for generations. In fact, many Tribal land owners know very little about their lands; where they are located, how they are being used, who they share ownership with, etc. This has had devastating impacts on the ability of landowners to manage and benefit from their land-based resources – economically or culturally.
Since 2003 the Lakota Lands Recovery Project has been providing direct support support to individual American Indians seeking utilize their lands. The most recent effort is a project initiated by Edward Iron Cloud III on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mr. Iron Cloud seeks to acquire a lease to 1500 acres of land on the Reservation to establish a cultural camp for native youth and a campsite for tourists and different organizations visiting the Reservation. The lease for this land is only $8000 per year so by being creative and developing revenue streams from the land, like tourism, that do not require a lot of start-up capital, he can transform this land into something that more directly benefits his family and his community. Of course, the emergence of crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo.com and Kickstarter.com as well as online “reservation” services like AirBnb.com, Homeaway.com, VRBL.com, etc open up new possibilities for non-agriculture based enterprises on Reservation lands.
Some of these sustainable low-capital enterprises viable on a reservation setting might include.
- Renting campsites using online booking services like AirBnb
- Horseback riding
- Collecting wild plants
- Making land available to groups for camps, ecological research projects, etc.
Unlike conventional agriculture, enterprises like the ones listed have a greater multiplier effect (keeping dollars changing hands locally) in their communities by creating more local jobs and benefiting the entire support economy by increasing patronage at local gas stations, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, etc.
If you’re interested in utilizing land on your reservation, contact David Bartecchi at [email protected]