July 13, 2022—Today, the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and Native American Rights Fund (“NARF”) published Putting Land in Trust: A Guidebook for Alaska Native Tribes and Individuals, which informs and guides Alaska Natives about the process of applying to have their privately held land converted to land held in trust for them by the United States. This “fee-to-trust” or “land into trust” process gives tribal members much greater sovereignty and control over land as compared to land they hold privately. (“Fee” refers to the legal concept of “fee simple” land—a property law term referring to what people typically think of as complete ownership of land.)
Congress established the trust lands acquisition process in 1934 and applied it to Alaska in 1936. However, the process has not, in fact, been available to Alaska Natives since around 1980, when the U.S. Department of Interior (“DOI”) construed relevant federal law to exclude Alaska from trust lands acquisition eligibility. After years of regulatory back and forth, Alaska Natives may now again apply to have their lands held in trust.
The Clinic and NARF, therefore, collaborated to write the Guidebook to assist Alaska Native tribes and individuals in preparing fee-to-trust applications. The Guidebook explains the relevant statutes and regulations, the benefits and possible drawbacks of having land held in trust, and the details of the application process.
NARF has provided legal assistance to Indian tribes, organizations, and individuals nationwide who might otherwise have gone without adequate representation. NARF has successfully asserted and defended the most important rights of Indians and tribes in hundreds of major cases, and has achieved significant results in such critical areas as tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, natural resource protection, and Indian education. NARF is a non-profit 501c(3) organization that focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to guarantee that national and state governments live up to their legal obligations.
The Guidebook was written by Anna Todd (JD ’23), in collaboration with Clinical Fellow Tommy Landers, and Matthew Newman, a Senior Staff Attorney at NARF. The Guidebook is available here: Putting Land in Trust: A Guidebook for Alaska Native Tribes and Individuals