Energy & Environment

Interior, Haaland reverses Trump effort on tribal land

Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland
Washington Examiner/Pool

The Interior Department will roll back several Trump-era steps that complicated the process by which Native American tribes can place land into trust, the department announced Tuesday morning.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the post, is issuing an order to return jurisdiction over trust applications to regional Bureau of Indian Affairs directors.

Her order reverses a 2017 move by the Interior Department under former President Trump that placed these decisions under the jurisdiction of department headquarters.

“At Interior, we have an obligation to work with Tribes to protect their lands and ensure that each Tribe has a homeland where its citizens can live together and lead safe and fulfilling lives,” Haaland said in a statement. “Our actions today will help us meet that obligation and will help empower Tribes to determine how their lands are used – from conservation to economic development projects.”

Haaland also revoked three Trump-era Interior opinions that the department said unduly complicated the process by which tribes seek to place land into trust.

Placing land into trust is the process under which the department holds ownership of land for either a tribe or individual tribe members.

The department’s actions are intended to “unwind a bureaucratic knot that was created by the last administration,” an Interior official told reporters on a call Tuesday.

The amount of land placed into trust by Interior shrunk to 75,000 acres during Trump’s four years in office, from 560,000 acres during former President Obama’s two terms. 

In a statement following the announcement, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) praised the decision, saying it “makes the process easier for Tribal communities looking to expand their economies, increase their land base and control their own futures.”

“Indian Country needs land-into-trust decisions to be based on genuine consultation, which the Trump administration routinely ignored,” he said. “Tribal communities around the country just want the same transparency and legal equity many of us so often take for granted, and today’s steps are a big part of granting those reasonable requests.”

Tags Barack Obama Deb Haaland Donald Trump Indigenous peoples of North America Interior Department tribal lands

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