Today, Village Earth’s Lakota Lands Recovery Project is proud to announce the launch of a new resource for Lakota lands owners on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Pine Ridge Land Information System (PRLIS), is online mapping tool that allows members of the Tribe to locate their allotted lands and view other data about land use and management. The resource was developed by Village Earth with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Village Earth also developed a companion website to house the tool an other related information at www.lakotalands.net. The Pine Ridge Reservation encompasses 2,788,047 acres including all of Shannon, Jackson and Bennett Counties in South Dakota and a portion of Sheridan County, NE. This land is divided into 20,507 different parcels, 44% of which are owned in-part or in-whole by individual Tribal Members, a total of 1,067,877 acres. These are lands that were allotted to individual tribal members as a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Severalty Act) and have been passed down to each subsequent generation. Most of these lands however, are not being managed by the land owners. Rather, a century of discriminatory policies enacted by the Federal Government have functioned to alienate the original allottees and their heirs from their lands to make them available for lease by non-tribal members for a fraction of their fair market value. Few people realize that on Pine Ridge and on Reservations across the country, these policies have meant that the Indian land owners 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’re located, how they’re being used, who they share ownership with, etc. This has had devastating impacts on the ability of land owners to benefit from their land-based resources – economically or culturally. According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers. Despite the widespread leasing, over 70% families on Pine Ridge would like to live on and utilize their lands. This is according to survey data collected by Colorado State University.
Village Earth’s Lakota Lands Recovery Project was started out of this expressed desire from the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Since 2003, the Lakota Lands Recovery Project has worked alongside tribal members moving in this direction. Our approach has been to provide direct support to Lakota families who are utilizing Reservation lands, providing fiscal sponsorship, small grants, loans, and releasing over 100 head of buffalo onto Lakota family ranchers. Our other complimentary approach has been to provide advocacy, information and tools to those who would like to begin to move in that direction. In 2008, with support from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation we developed the Pine Ridge Strategic Land Planning Map Book and distributed it through Strategic Land Planning Workshops held in each of the Nine Districts on the Reservation. The map book, addressed a particular challenge expressed by tribal members, accessing information about their lands and the options available to them. This is a common problem across Indian Country and is a serious obstacle for Native American’s wanting to utilize their lands. According the Indian Land Working Group:
Over the past 100 years, the government has implemented their “highest and best use” management policy by leasing Indian Land to non-Indians. This continues today, as is evidenced by the fact that of the 9 million acres of trust land classified as agricultural, 6 million is lased to non-Indians. A leasing cartel has been created because Indian landowners have had limited access to information and resources necessary to use and manage allotted trust lands.
To begin to address this need, Village Earth’s Stategic Land Planning Map Book provide full color aerial photos with parcel information for the entire reservation, sample forms and step-by-step procedures for doing land exchanges, partitions, gift deeds, and other tools that Tribal land owners can use to gain greater control over their lands. It was very well received across the Reservation but it was costly to print and distribute. Furthermore, land owners could only get a limited view of their lands. This new tool supports both of these strategic directions while making it more accessible and dynamic. Using the PRLIS, tribal members can:
- Search for individually allotted and Tribal owned trust lands using the Tract ID found on their government land reports.
- View, print and share a web link for the boundaries of specific land tracts.
- View Pine Ridge lands with various base layers including Google and Bing aerial photography, Google and Bing roads, Google and Bing Hybrid, and terrain.
- View a Landsat TM Image which can be used to assess the management and of lands on Pine Ridge.
- View a map of the Range Units that are leased across Pine Ridge.
- View the Boundaries of the Reservation today and as defined in the 1851 and 1868 Treaties.
- We plan to soon add other demographic, cultural, political information to the PRLIS.
Village Earth has developed this as a demonstration and is open to consult with other Tribes interested in developing their own low-cost online land information systems. For more information about the Pine Ridge Land Information System or the Lakota Lands Recovery Project contact David Bartecchi at [email protected]