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This is the fifth in a series of articles on doing business with Native American Tribes in Nevada.  These articles provide an overview of the political and business structures employed by Indian tribes, as well as the advantages and challenges of doing business in Indian Country.

Tribal Land

Trust Land

Most tribal land is owned by the federal government in trust for the tribe or individual Indian.  The relationship between the government and the tribe is similar to that of a guardian and a ward, where the government is a fiduciary owing duties to the tribes to care for the land on behalf of the tribes now and in the future.[1]  Trust land is not subject to state or local taxes, land use laws, or some federal environmental regulations.[2]  It may not be sold, leased, or taxed without federal government approval.[3]

Fee Land

Certain lands within a reservation may be owned in fee by a tribe, individual Indians, and non-Indians.  The federal government does not hold these lands in trust for the tribes.  Fee land is subject to applicable state and local taxes.[4]  Fee land owned by a tribe outside of a reservation is not normally subject to restrictions against alienation, encumbrance, or governmental approval. The law is not clear whether such restrictions apply to fee land within the boundaries of a reservation.[5]

 


 

[1] Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1, 17 (1831).

[2] 25 C.F.R. § 1.4.

[3] See 25 U.S.C. § 81; 25 C.F.R. §  152.22(b); 25 U.S.C. § 177; 25 C.F.R. § 224; 25 U.S.C. § 396a; 25 U.S.C. § 415; 25 U.S.C. § 2102(a); 25 U.S.C. § 3504.

[4] County of Yakama v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakama Indian Nation, 502 U.S. 251 (1992).

[5] 25 U.S.C. § 177; see also Pub. L. 101–630, § 101 (“Section 2116 of the Revised Statutes (25 U.S.C. § 177) prohibits the conveyance of any lands owned by Indian tribes without the consent of Congress.”); 25 C.F.R. §  152.22(b) (“Lands held in trust by the United States for an Indian tribe, lands owned by a tribe with Federal restrictions against alienation and any other land owned by an Indian tribe may only be conveyed where specific statutory authority exists and then only with the approval of the Secretary unless the Act of Congress authorizing sale provides that approval is unnecessary.”); United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28 (1913); United States v. Candelaria, 271 U.S. 432 (1926); Alonzo v. United States, 249 F.2d 189 (10th Cir. 1957), cert. denied 355 U.S. 940 (1958); Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma v. Richards, 75 F.3d 1039, 1045 (5th Cir. 1996); but see Lummi Indian Tribe v. Whatcom County, 5 F.3d 1355 (9th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 512 U.S. 1228 (1994); Saginaw Chippewa Tribe v. State of Michigan, 882 F.Supp. 659 (E.D. Mich. 1995), rev’d on other grounds 106 F.3d 130 (6th Cir. 1997), cert. granted and judgment vacated sub. nom. Michigan v. United States, 524 U.S. 923 (1998); Anderson & Middleton Lumber Co. v. Quinault Indian Nation, 929 P.2d 379 (Wash. 1996)

About the Author

Jay Young is a Las Vegas, Nevada attorney. His practice focuses on business law, business litigation, and acting as an Arbitrator and Mediator.

Mr. Young can be reached at 702.667.4868 or at jay@h2law.com.