What Is Allotment and Why Was AIPRA Necessary?
The General Allotment Act of 1887 (Allotment Act) initiated the policy of Indian land allotment by authorizing the President to allocate plots of land on Indian Reservations, to Indian individuals and families (allottees). Allotments were held in trust by the government for their American Indian recipients. This meant, in part, that the land could not be sold and was exempt from state property taxation. After the allotment phase, ‘surplus’ land on Indian Reservations was sold to non-Indians to settle and cultivate. American Indians lost over two-thirds of their tribal land through this process. Allotment was seen as a way to assimilate American Indians into mainstream white farming culture and to do away with traditional tribal ways of life.
Under the Allotment Act, the land of deceased allottees passed to their heirs according to the laws of the state where the land was located. In 1910, Congress passed a law that allowed American Indian allottees to pass their land on to their heirs by will. Despite this change in the Allotment Act, however, few American Indians wrote wills. This intestacy led to problems with fractionation.
Under the Allotment Act, heirs (those who inherited by intestate succession) took land as tenants in common, holding undivided shares of the same piece of property. With each generation of heirs, the shares got smaller and smaller. Today, some of the original allotments are held by so many heirs that shares are as small as a piece of 8” x 11” paper. Additionally, because the land was held in trust by the federal government, the small land interests could not be sold or consolidated among the land holders and so was effectively useless for them.
Over the last century, Congress has acted several times to try to remedy the fractionation problem. The Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983 (ILCA) was designed to remedy fractionation by authorizing tribes to adopt plans for consolidation of tribal lands thorough purchase, sale or exchange. Tribal land consolidation plans required approval by the Secretary of the Interior. While ILCA addressed some of the fractionation problems inherent in the Allotment Act, it did not fully resolve issues related to intestacy.
In response to this congressional action, some tribes and tribal members challenged ILCA because, in part, it allowed for very small fractionated interests to revert (or ‘escheat’) to the tribe without compensating the owners of these small interests. Over the next several years, there were additional amendments and court challenges surrounding ILCA. For more information regarding these court challenges and amendments, see the link below, History of AIPRA.
History of AIPRA - Adobe PDF file