For over a century, Indian families have seen valuable land resources diminish as fractionated ownership increases with each passing generation. As a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887 (also called the Dawes Act), reservation land was divided up and allotted to individual tribal members. When an allottee died, title ownership was divided up amongst all of the heirs, but the land itself was not physically divided. As such, each Indian heir received an undivided interest in the land. Now, as each generation passes on, the number of owners grows exponentially, which has resulted in the highly fractionated ownership of much Indian land today.
Parcels with fractionated ownership can have hundreds—even thousands—of owners. With so many owners, individual income from the land is minimal—sometimes less than what it costs the federal government to process the payment. In addition, land use is compromised because an undivided interest owner must gain consent from a majority of the parcel’s owners to do anything with the land. This makes it nearly impossible for any one of the owners to use the land for agriculture, business development or a homesite—all uses that would improve quality of life for Indian people.
Fractionated ownership presents a serious problem that, if not addressed, will continue to get worse, placing Indian land further out of Indian control and adding to the excessive administrative costs of managing the interests. For example, in 2007, one 80-acre tract on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in Wisconsin had 2,285 undivided interest owners. If nothing is done to prevent the further fractionation of these interests (such as implementing a land consolidation plan) in fifty years this allotment will have close to 535,000 owners and the annual costs to administer the allotment will go from $150,000 to $60,000,000!
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