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Grants seek to tap wealth in Indian land

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. - Lack of access to Aboriginal land rights remains one
of the most significant barriers to building Native wealth. Now the Indian
Land Tenure Foundation is trying to right that, by making about 15 grants
in the past two years to increase the value American Indians get from their
land.

ILTF, based here, has made about $2 million in grants towards its goal of
making sure "land within the original boundaries of every reservation and
other areas of high significance where tribes retain Aboriginal interest
are in Indian ownership and management."

The foundation, started in 2002, has granted money for a wide array of
purposes, including educational, strategic land planning, land restoration
projects and legal work.

Among the land restoration project grants are $115,000 to the Klamath
Tribes of Oregon, $185,030 to the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower
Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians of Oregon, and $27,750 to the Snoqualmie Tribe
of Washington.

The Klamath plan "to develop a Forest Management Plan for 692,000 acres of
ancestral territory within the Klamath's original reservation boundaries
for which they currently are negotiating with the federal government." The
tribes "seek to craft a mutually beneficial and long-term plan to reacquire
and manage land in the Klamath Basin."

The grant to the Confederated Tribes is "to enable the tribes to retain
professional educational, media, cultural, forestry, fisheries and wildlife
consultants and staff. The tribes have developed a Forest Restoration Plan
and a Reservation Plan to show their commitment to the intelligent and
sustainable management of land which they may receive in the future."

The Snoqualmie money is to be used "to acquire a 275-acre county park in
King County which includes land that is culturally significant to the
tribe," the foundation said. "The grant will also be used to implement
extensive community outreach to inform tribal members and the surrounding
community of the acquisition and the tribe's desire to be a good community
neighbor."

The biggest grant the foundation has made is to the University of Idaho Law
School for $653,026 "to create a two-year pilot that involves community
education and the placement of 12 interns in Native legal service
organizations within Idaho, Washington and Oregon."

In the area of strategic land planning, the group awarded $92,000 to the
Indian Land Working Group of Albuquerque, N.M. "for the development of
strategic land planning curriculum for use in localized workshops targeting
individual landowners."

It also has awarded $57,800 to Turtle Mountain Community College in North
Dakota, "to develop a model strategic planning curriculum for
tribally-controlled colleges."

And it has granted Medicine Root, Inc. $39,100 to develop two strategic
land planning workshops. This group received a second grant from the
foundation, for $94,800, to develop Indian land tenure curricula for grades
K - 12.

The foundation even has made an individual award, to Dr. Edward Valandra of
Metro State University, St. Paul, Minn., to develop college level land
tenure curricula. Dr. Valandra received $13,640 from the group.

Started by a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, the ILTF seeks to
remedy problems caused by checkerboard reservations, fractionation of land
interests, and diminishment of Indian land as an asset.

Checkerboarding refers to alienation of land away from Indians within their
reservation boundaries. Fractionation happens because Indian heirs inherit
land equally, and as each generation passes there are more and more heirs
to Indian allotments.

Diminishment over the years has whittled Indian land down from about 156
million acres in 1881 to 55 million today, the foundation said.

"The opportunity to utilize the land base as an economic engine has been
greatly diminished, which has had a devastating impact on the economic and
social well-being of Indians living on reservations," the foundation said.