Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Briefs. Discussion »
WASHINGTON The US Department of the Interior announced sweeping reforms on Tuesday that will streamline the leasing approval process on 56 million American Indian trust land in Indian country.
Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs
“This reform is about supporting self-determination for Indian Nations and was developed in close consultation with tribal leaders,”
said Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Washburn.
“The streamlined, commonsense rule replaces a process ill-suited for economic development of Indian lands and provides flexibility and certainty to tribal communities and individuals regarding decisions on the use of their land.”
Included in the final regulations are measures to decrease significantly the time it takes for American Indians to buy homes in Indian trust land; to expedite business and commercial development, including renewable energy products.
Previous Bureau of Indian Affairs regulations, established in 1961, were deemed outdated and unworkable in today's economy. They lacked a defined process or deadlines for review, which resulted in simple mortgage applications often languishing for several years awaiting approval from the federal government. These types of delays have been significant obstacles to homeownership and economic development on tribal lands.
“This reform will expand opportunities for individual landowners and tribal governments to generate investment and create jobs in their communities by bringing greater transparency and workability to the Bureau of Indian Affairs leasing process,”
Secretary Salazar said.
“This final step caps the most comprehensive reforms of Indian land leasing regulations in more than 50 years and will have a lasting impact on individuals and families who want to own a home or build a business on Indian land.”
The new rule complements and helps to implement the recently passed Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Homeownership Act (HEARTH Act), which allows federally recognized tribes to assume greater control of leasing on tribal lands. The HEARTH Act was signed into law by President Obama on July 30, 2012.
The new regulation, effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, will fundamentally change the way the BIA does business, in many ways by minimizing BIA's role and restoring greater control to tribal governments. The final rule provides clarity by identifying specific processes - with enforceable timelines - through which the BIA must review leases.
The regulation also establishes separate, simplified processes for residential, business, and renewable energy development, rather than using a "one-size fits all" approach that treats a lease for a single family home the same as a lease for a large wind energy project.
The new process provides a 30 day limit for the BIA to issue decisions on residential leases, subleases, and mortgages. For commercial or industrial development, the BIA would have 60 days to review leases and subleases. If the BIA does not complete its review of subleases in this timeframe, those agreements will automatically go into effect.
The new rule increases flexibility in compensations and land valuations, with BIA deferring to the tribe's negotiated value for a lease of tribal land rather than requiring additional, costly appraisals. Other changes eliminate the requirement for BIA approval of permits for certain short-term activities on Indian lands, and supports landowner decisions regarding the use of their land by requiring the BIA to approve leases unless it finds a compelling reason to disapprove.
Led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Del Laverdure, Interior conducted several rounds of consultation in 2011 and 2012 to develop the proposed and the final regulations. The comments received in writing and during the public meetings helped inform the final regulations being announced Tuesday.
A copy of the final regulation is available here.
posted November 28, 2012 6:57 am est