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. 

Congressional Action

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