BIA Statement on Fee To Trust Process



Fee-to-Trust Transfers

Why are tribes allowed to put land into trust?

Tribal Trusts are a result of The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA), which was enacted to remedy the devastating loss to Indians of over 90 million acres (two-thirds of the total) of Indian lands between the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the IRA of 1934. It authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to hold land for Indian Tribes and individual Indians in trust, thereby securing Indian lands for economic development, housing, and related purposes. It also allows the tribe to benefit from the housing and other federal programs which can only be used on land which has been placed in trust.

What to do if you are concerned about fee-to-trust transfers in your county?

Tribal purchase of land is not sufficient to take land off the tax rolls nor is the conversion of land to a tax-exempt trust status immediate or automatic. According to federal regulations, a tribal government must submit a specific application to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, when it wants land it owns taken into trust. in July 1995, the BIA issued regulations governing the fee-to-trust process.

What does a fee-to-trust request contain?

According to the regulations (5 CFR 151.10) when applying to take land into trust, a tribe must provide the following information to the BIA:

Official citations of federal statutes under which the transaction is to take place and a tribal government resolution authorizing the acceptance of the transfer. 

A legal description of the property, and a tribal request for trust status.

Discussion of whether third parties will be using the land.

Discussion of the need to take the land into trust, and justification why the present status of the land will not serve that need. Avoiding taxation may not be used as a reason.

Description of the purposes of the transfer. The tribe must specifically explain the intended use of the acquired land (eg. housing, economic development) and how the acquisition will enhance that use.

Assessment of impact on local government. The tribe, after consulting with local government, must describe any existing conflicts over taxation and services such as: policing, utilities, zoning and fire protection.

Indication of resolution of problems and conflicts. Where conflicts exist, tribes must also describe how they intend to resolve conflicts over tax funded activities.

Proof of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and federal hazardous waste laws.

How does the BIA respond to an application?

If the land is to be used for a purpose other than gaming, local or regional offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) make the decision about whether or not to approve the transfer. If a tribe applies to take land within their current reservation boundary into trust the decision is made by the Great Lakes Agency Office (which handles Wisconsin) in Ashland. If the tribe applies to take land into trust that is outside their current reservation boundary, then the decision is made by the Area Office in Minneapolis.

Regulations require that the BIA notify state and local governments when they receive an application from a tribe
to process a taxable parcel of land to trust status. The notification is provided for the purpose of allowing government entities an opportunity to comment. Notices must identify the land to be transferred and the requesting tribe, as well as the tribe's proposed use of the land.

How long do local governments have to make comments?

The regulations provide affected governments 30 days to comment. All comments are given consideration in the review process. After all comments have been received and reviewed, the BIA is then in a position to issue a decision. If the decision is difficult or additional technical review is needed, the BIA may request the assistance of BIA Headquarters in Washington.

How have local governments dealt with tribes on taxation issues?

The federal regulations are structured to start a dialogue between communities, tribes and states on the management of proposed trust lands. Tribes and local governments in Wisconsin have entered into agreements over services, though they are not a prerequisite for trust approval. Tribes have agreed to pay a fee for particular services, contracted with local governments to provide services, and in some cases have provided services themselves.

How can individuals get involved?

You can either contact your local government or BIA directly to express your views.

What to do if you:

Want to know whether a tribe has applied to take land in to trust

Tribal government offices are able to provide information on the status of trust requests or interested individuals can contact the appropriate BIA Office.

Want to comment on a pending trust application

Individuals interested in commenting on trust applications should contact the appropriate BIA Office.