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Interior Department reverses Trump policies on placing Native lands in trust

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Tuesday reversed multiple policies instituted by the Trump administration, which the agency said undermined the ability of Tribes to establish and consolidate their homelands. Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland on Tuesday reversed multiple policies instituted by the Trump administration, which the agency said "undermined the ability of Tribes to establish and consolidate their homelands." Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/UPI | License Photo

April 27 (UPI) -- The Department of the Interior on Tuesday reversed several Trump administration policies it said made it more difficult for Native American tribes to place land into trust.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead the agency, issued an order returning authority to review and approve applications to place land into trust to the Bureau of Indian Affairs regional directors after former President Donald Trump in 2017 directed that they be handled by the Interior Department's headquarters staff.

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Tuesday's order does not apply to gaming applications, the agency said.

Placing lands into trusts allows tribes to reacquire lands within or near their reservations by having the Interior Department acquire the title to the property and hold it for the benefit of a tribe or individual.

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The Interior Department said the prior administration's changes increased the complexity in the decision-making process and "undermined the ability of tribes to establish and consolidate their homelands."

"At the interior, we have an obligation to work with tribes to protect their lands and ensure that each tribe has a homeland where its citizens can live together and lead safe and fulfilling lives," Haaland said. "Our actions today will help us meet that obligation and will help empower tribes to determine how their lands are used -- from conservation to economic development projects."

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The agency on Tuesday also withdrew two policies it said "created an unduly burdensome process" for tribes seeking to place land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act and one that "erroneously concluded" the secretary of the interior does not have discretionary authority to take land into trust for tribes in Alaska.

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"The patchwork of landholdings within existing reservation boundaries can make it difficult to develop coherent law enforcement and regulatory policies on reservations, restricting the ability to sustain community and economic development," said Bryan Newland, principal deputy assistant secretary of Indian Affairs. "These important actions are a step in the right direction to restore homelands that will strengthen tribal communities."

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