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The Federal Trust Responsibility in a Self-Determination Era

Lynn H. Slade, Natural Resources Development and Environmental Regulation in Indian Country (1999)

The Federal government's trust responsibility towards Indian lands and resources is multifaceted.1 The trust doctrine's role in defining tribes' claims against the United States for taking or badly managing tribal lands has been the focus of much discussion.2 The trust doctrine also figures in defining the United States' duties with respect to minerals development on tribal or individual Indian lands and, consequently, may define the rights of resource developers under Indian lands leases, minerals agreements, or rights-of-way.3 Considerations of the United States' trust duties towards Indians or their lands may arise at the point of leasing or contracting, in the administration by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) of activities under approved agreements, and in courts' resolutions of nds of tribes or individual Indians.disputes regarding the lands of tribes or individual Indians.

The nature and rigor of the duties the trust doctrine imposes on the Unites States, consequently, may affect resource development and environmental protection in Indian Country. The requirement of valid approval by the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized delegate (“the Secretary”) of leases, rights-of-way, or contracts relative to tribal land leaves the validity of some agreements dependent upon the Secretary's compliance with trust duties.4 Additionally, courts may [2A-2] refer t