Indian tribes buy back thousands of acres of land

by Timberly Ross
Washington Examiner
December 27, 2009

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Native American tribes tired of waiting for the U.S. government to honor centuries-old treaties are buying back land where their ancestors lived and putting it in federal trust.

Native Americans say the purchases will help protect their culture and way of life by preserving burial grounds and areas where sacred rituals are held. They also provide land for farming, timber and other efforts to make the tribes self-sustaining.

Tribes put more than 840,000 acres — or roughly the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island — into trust from 1998 to 2007, according to information The Associated Press obtained from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act.

Those buying back land include the Winnebago, who have put more than 700 acres in eastern Nebraska in federal trust in the past five years, and the Pawnee, who have 1,600 acres of trust land in Oklahoma. Land held in federal trust is exempt from local and state laws and taxes, but subject to most federal laws.

Three tribes have bought land around Bear Butte in South Dakota’s Black Hills to keep it from developers eager to cater to the bikers who roar into Sturgis every year for a raucous road rally. About 17 tribes from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma still use the mountain for religious ceremonies.

Emily White Hat, a member of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux, said the struggle to protect the land is about “preservation of our culture, our way of life and our traditions.”

“All of it is connected,” White Hat said. “With your land, you have that relationship to the culture.”

Other members of the Rosebud Sioux, such as president Rodney Bordeaux, believe the tribes shouldn’t have to buy the land back because it was illegally taken. But they also recognize that without such purchases, the land won’t be protected.

The article continues at the Examiner.

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