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Utilization of Land Reports for Real Estate Located within Federal Indian Reservations

Posted By USFN, Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2018

October 17, 2018

by Blair Gisi
SouthLaw, P.C. – USFN Member (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri)

If you have ever reviewed title work for real estate located on a federal Indian reservation, you have likely encountered some additional requirements stemming from the tribal sovereignty recognized by the United States government. Contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to request a land report to ensure that the real estate is, in fact, tribal land is warranted before taking on these requirements.

The BIA states that there are approximately 56.2 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for various Indian tribes and individuals.1 While there are various forms of “tribal land” (allotted lands, restricted status lands, or state Indian reservations), the key consideration here is whether the United States actually holds title in trust for an Indian Tribe or individual Native American. In other words, simply because the real estate is located on an Indian reservation does not necessarily mean that it is tribal land.

In one particular matter, a recently reviewed foreclosure title report included an additional requirement due to the real estate being located on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Indian Reservation in Northeastern Kansas. While potentially necessary, this further requisite would have likely added time and costs to the foreclosure action from additional steps, including the need to register to practice in tribal court and/or the need to register the state court judgment as a foreign judgment with the controlling tribal court. While researching this issue, it was discovered that the BIA Division of Land Titles and Records (and its 18 Land Titles and Records Offices) could expedite this process. This, ultimately, saved time and costs.

After contacting the regional Southern Plains Land Titles and Records Office (which covers Kansas),2 it was learned that a land report could be obtained for no charge — and within two weeks of the request. Receipt of the land report revealed that, while the subject real estate was located on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Indian Reservation, the United States government did own or hold the real estate in trust and, therefore, the real estate was not tribal land. Providing the land report to the title company resulted in a removal of the requirement at issue. Consequently, the foreclosure commenced without the need to involve the reservation or tribal council.

It should also be noted that prior to contacting the BIA Land Titles and Records office, this author’s firm reached out to the Kansas Native American Affairs office (the KNAA). The KNAA assisted in pointing out that the subject real estate could not have been tribal land based on a review of the chain of title and lack of involvement of the BIA in mortgaging this property to the current borrowers. The KNAA, however, was unable to generate the report necessary to remove the requirement at issue.

For a list of Land Titles and Records Offices as well as a map of the regions, visit: https://www.bia.gov/bia/ots/dltr.

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Note for consideration of the USFN Award of Excellence: This article is not a "Feature."


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