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Acquiring Mineral Rights to Tribal Trust and Allotted Lands

M. Julia Hook, Land and Permitting (1994)

This paper traces the evolution of the traditional federal statutory schemes governing development of minerals on Indian tribal trust lands;1 discusses the problems with these traditional mineral development approaches that Congress was seeking to solve when it adopted the Indian Mineral Development Act of 1982; and addresses the types of title materials that are available for review prior to entering into a lease or other agreement for the development of minerals on tribal trust lands.

Types of Indian Land Ownership

The two most common types of Indian lands are tribal trust lands and allotted lands. Tribal trust lands are those held by the United States in trust for federally-recognized Indian tribes. This is a unique land ownership system in which each tribe is said to hold the equitable title to its lands for the benefit of all members of that tribe.2 As a general rule, tribes acquired their tribal trust lands by virtue of one or more of the following: (1) the actions of governments predating the United States; (2) their aboriginal possession of the lands in question; (3) treaties with the United States confirming their aboriginal possession of certain lands or granting them other lands in exchange for aboriginal lands; (4) acts of Congress confirming their aboriginal lands or granting them other lands in exchange; (5) executive orders confirming their abor