Tribes buy back America --acres at a time
Condensed by Native Village

OMAHA, Nebraska - Native American tribes are buying back land where their ancestors lived. They are tired of waiting for the U.S. to honor centuries old treaties.

The purchases will protect their burial grounds and areas where sacred rituals are held.  The land also enables farming, timber, other efforts to boost tribal economy.

Many of these lands will be given in trust to the U.S. Government. That makes them exempt from local and state laws and taxes, but subject to most federal laws.

Tribes put more than 840,000 acres about the size of Rhode Island into trust from 1998 to 2007.

The Winnebago have put more than 700 acres in eastern Nebraska in federal trust in the last five years,
the Pawnee have 1,600 acres of trust land in Oklahoma.

Three tribes purchased land around Bear Butte in South Dakota to keep out developers. About 17 tribes from several state use Bear Butte  religious ceremonies.

The White Earth Land Recovery Project has purchased or been gifted hundreds of acres in Minnesota. The White Earth tribe uses the land to harvest rice, farm and produce maple syrup. Members hope to once again become self-sustaining.

No one knows how much land the U.S. promised Native American tribes in treaties since the 1700s. The government kept changing treaty terms to make property available to settlers and give right-of-ways to railroads and telegraphs. 

President Obama proposed spending $2,000,000,000 to buy back and consolidate tribal land broken up in previous generations.  Some people believe the tribes shouldn't have to buy the land -- it was illegally taken. But they also realize that that without such purchases, the land won't be protected.

"If the tribes were to pursue return of the land in the courts it would be years before any action could result in more tribal land ... and the people simply cannot wait," said Cris Stainbrook, of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.

Today, 562 federally recognized tribes have more than 55,000,000 acres held in trust. But several states and local governments are fighting efforts to add to that number. They say the federal government isn't authorized to take state land and tax revenues.

Plus, putting land in trust forces local governments to provide sewer and water services on property they can't tax.

In 2008, the state of New York and two counties filed suit to block the U.S. Department of Interior from putting 13,000 acres into trust for the Oneida Tribe. A judge threw out their claims.

Winona LaDuke, who started the White Earth project, said buying property is expensive, but it's the quickest and easiest way for tribes to regain control of their land.

Tribal membership is growing thanks to higher birth rates, longer life spans and relaxed qualifications for membership.  More land is needed for housing, community services and economic development.

Thirty to 40 tribes make enough Casino profits to buy the actual land. Then even more money is needed to fund social programs, education and health care for tribal members.