Congress amends Stigler Act to protect tribally restricted land

BY STAFF REPORTS
12/21/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation leaders are applauding congressional leaders for passing the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018 on Dec. 20.

Enrolled tribal citizens of the Five Tribes, which includes the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole, will be able to inherit their family’s allotted land and keep it in restricted-fee status without having to meet a blood quantum requirement.

When land is in restricted-fee status, it is not subject to taxation and may not be sold or transferred without permission of the Department of the Interior.

The Stigler Act Amendments of 2018 remove the one-half degree Indian blood requirement that was part of the original 1947 Stigler Act. Under the current law, the restricted-fee status of land allotted to citizens of the Five Tribes is maintained only if the individual holding title has at least 50 percent Indian blood.

Tribal leaders and citizens have sought to remove that requirement for decades. From 2011 to 2015, the Cherokee Nation lost 534 acres of restricted fee land because of the blood quantum requirement.

“Our families have a right to pass their lands onto their heirs and hold onto those historically significant family connections,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “For far too long, the blood quantum stipulation has tied up land titles and prevented families from keeping their inheritance. We are so thankful for the lawmakers in Washington who understood what this means for our tribes and citizens.”

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in September, sending it on to the U.S. Senate, where last week Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., helped move the bill through the Senate. Senator Lankford serves on the Indian Affairs Committee and led efforts to ensure final passage of the bill. The Senate made a technical change to the bill that required approval from the U.S. House of Representatives.

House leaders Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., led efforts to get the bill passed on Dec. 20.

“We are pleased the House approved this bill for a second time,” Cherokee Nation Vice-President of Government Relations Kim Teehee said. “I’m so proud of our tribal leaders, congressional delegation and Department of the Interior officials for the cooperative way in which everyone worked together to ensure passage of this bill. This will bring parity and justice to those citizens of the Five Tribes who are fortunate enough to possess restricted land by allowing the land to pass from generation to generation regardless of the blood quantum of their heirs and forever link this precious land to their tribes.”

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Tribes, in which Chief Baker is president, made the Stigler Act a priority.

Both Chief Baker and Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief, James Floyd, who is ITC vice president, testified before Congress for the bill’s passage. Cherokee Nation staff worked on amendments to the Senate bill for more than a year.

In the early 1900s, the Five Tribes had 15 million acres in restricted fee status in Oklahoma and by 2015 was down to 381,000 acres in restricted fee status.

The legislation now goes to President Trump for signature.

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