Chief Baker testifies before Congress on trust land legislation
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony Oct. 4 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs about H.R. 2606, the Stigler Act Amendments. The legislation would remove provisions that prevent a Native American citizen from inheriting land in restricted fee status. COURTESY
WASHINGTON — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker delivered testimony Oct. 4 before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
Baker urged subcommittee members to push forward H.R. 2606, the Stigler Act Amendments. If passed, the legislation would remove provisions that prevent a Native American citizen from inheriting land in restricted fee status if he or she is below one-half certificate degree of Indian blood.
Baker’s full testimony follows:
Chairman LaMalfa, I am Bill John Baker, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
I am pleased to provide testimony today on H.R. 2606, the Stigler Act Amendments, on behalf of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. Joining me today is Principal Chief James Floyd of the Muscogee Creek Nation, who serves as president of the Inter-Tribal Council.
The Inter-Tribal Council is an organization comprised of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Seminole Nation, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation and Cherokee Nation. Together, our tribes represent more than 650,000 tribal citizens throughout the United States, or about one quarter of the entire population of Indian country.
We support H.R. 2606, which amends a 1947 law that unfairly burdens citizens of the Five Tribes.
This law has led to a devastating loss of land and is contrary to modern federal policy toward Indian tribes to restore tribal homelands. It is time to amend this Termination Era law that originates from a time when federal policy was designed to dramatically diminish tribal homelands.
Today, we respectfully ask you to remedy this injustice. The 1947 law prevents an Indian from inheriting land within the Five Tribes in restricted fee if he or she is below one-half degree of Indian blood. This antiquated blood quantum requirement is unique to the Five Tribes.
Citizens of other tribes do not lose their allotted lands due to the blood degree of an individual Indian. But within our tribes, when restricted land is passed to heirs with less than one-half blood degree, all of the land’s legal protections are stripped away forever.
It is hard to overstate what this loss means to our citizens. They treasure their restricted allotments and the link they represent to both their family and their tribe.
Before you today are two separate maps that demonstrate the effect of this law. The first map shows the number of restricted acres within the Five Tribes in 1916. There were more than 15 million acres of restricted land.
The second map shows that same area in 2015 is dramatically less, with just over 380,000 acres. That means out of every 160-acre allotment, only 4 acres remain. This is a mere 2.6 percent of the original restricted acreage, and that is what we are seeking to protect.
These amendments are straightforward, and their impacts are limited to the Five Tribes. The bill clarifies that lineal descendants of an original enrollee of the Five Tribes may maintain their restricted land, regardless of the degree of blood of the landowner. This includes the estates of Indians who died prior to the enactment of the amendments, unless the estate has been subject to a final court determination.
The amendments also clarify that owners of restricted land can have the restrictions lifted from their property if that is their desire. The rest of the language makes technical changes.
The purpose of the 1947 Act was to move Indian land from tribal ownership to non-Indian ownership.
This law has been devastatingly effective in accomplishing that goal. H.R. 2606 will not reverse 70 years of land loss, and it will not create any new restricted land. But it will help prevent any more of our tribal land from falling out of restricted status, and it would provide much-needed parity to the owners of restricted allotments.
I urge the subcommittee to favorably recommend this important legislation.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify.