A Second Century of Dishonor : Federal Inequities and California Tribes, ch. IV

IV. Land Inequities

Since the treaties of the 1850s were not ratified by the Senate, the status of California Indian land was not clear for many years. Even the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, while providing some formal protections to lands granted under Spanish dominion, did not serve to protect Indian title during the American period. The Rancheria Act restored some land, and other land was acquired through Indian homesteads, which are still administered by the federal government. California Indians were only rarely allowed to keep significant parts of their former territories, and only a few reservations like Round Valley date from the last century. Although there are 104 reservations and rancherias in California, according to BIA sources in 1990, the California Indian land that remains in tribal hands amounts to 405,172.11 acres, while 58,065.39 acres are under individual Indian ownership, usually in the form of public domain allotments.

The question of how much land remains in the hands of California Indians is still a significant issue since much Indian policy and distribution of funds are determined by amount of lands. For example, many California Indian reservations and rancherias are too small to qualify for significant forestry funds. Nevertheless, the unusual history of dispossession of California Indian lands accounts for the small amounts of lands remaining or granted during the twentieth century. California Indians are forced to suffer double jeopardy, having lost most of their lands through irregular methods, and now having to suffer fewer federal administrative and budget considerations for having too little land. Having less land tends to penalize the California Indians not only in government policy and administration, but also in constraints on the possibilities of economic and community development.

The following table presents American Indian land ownership by area office, tribe, and individual, and per capita acres within area office region. Most individual land holdings are allotments and are still under federal trusteeship.

Area Comparison of Indian Land Holdings

                   Tribal           Individual           Total
Area Land Land Per Capita Acres

Aberdeen 4,755,208 2,791,453 88.14
Albuquerque 4,484,538 74,264 87.96
Anadarko 40,686 435,550 12.94
Billings 3,997,604 3,969,261 248.78
Muskogee 68,324 589,783 3.32
Navajo 14,753,252 717,077 83.33
Eastern 516,861 0 15.79
Minneapolis 1,135,196 139,959 23.46
Phoenix 12,296,598 273,010 146.81
Portland 3,787,256 930,138 67.57
Sacramento 405,172 58,065 17.30 (8.65)
Juneau 86,773 884,100 10.83
The total per capita acres is calculated by adding tribal land and individual land and dividing by the 1989 BIA Indian Service Population and Labor Force Estimates. Here only the estimated service populations for each area office are used. The total individual land ownership in 1990 was 9,862,661 acres, while 46,327,469 acres were in tribal hands. The total BIA service population for 1990 was 949,075 with individual and tribal land totaling 56,190,130, which figures yield a national per capita Indian land holding of 59.2 acres.

The Area Comparison of Indian Land Holdings table indicates several points. Californian Indians, within the Sacramento area office, with 463,237 acres of tribal and allotted land, have the smallest land base within the BIA system. Anadarko is second with 476,236 acres. In terms of per capita acres, California Indians have 17.30 acres. Juneau with 10.83, Anadarko with 12.94, Eastern with 15.79, and Muskogee with 3.32 all have fewer per capita acres for Indians than California,but, as was argued above in the analysis of service populations, California Indians have been systematically undercounted in the BIA service population estimates by one-half the more likely number. If we use this estimate, dividing the California Indian per capita acres by two, a better estimate of California per capita acres is 8.65 acres, which is far below the national average of 59.2 acres. If the latter figure is accepted as most likely accurate, then only the Muskogee area has fewer per capita acres for Indians than California.

The Muskogee figures are somewhat misleading because the state of Oklahoma has two area offices, Anadarko and Muskogee. Furthermore, both Anadarko and Muskogee area offices serve Indians outside of the state of Oklahoma. If the total per capita acreage for the Indians in the state of Oklahoma is calculated, then a comparison can be made with California Indians. In Oklahoma, the Muskogee area office administers 68,325 tribal acres and 589,005 individual acres, while serving 198,136 Indian. Also in Oklahoma, Anadarko area office administers 28,514 tribal acres, and 411,160 individual acres, while serving 33,816 Indians. Combining both Anadarko and Muskogee figures for the state of Oklahoma, the BIA administers 96,839 tribal acres and 1,000,165 individual acres, while serving 231,952 Oklahoma Indians. Using the latter figures for Oklahoma yields 4.73 acres per Oklahoma Indian.

Thus Oklahoma has the lowest number of acres of land per Indian person within the BIA system. California has estimated per capita land holdings about twice as much as Oklahoma. In a comparison of Oklahoma with Sacramento area office per capita funding for Operation of Indian Programs, the per capita funding rates for California Indians were $522.14 (1991), $749.40 (1992) and $700.30 (1994). Since we estimate that only half of California Indians are included in the BIA Service Population counts, "real" California per capita funding rates are $261.07 (1991), $374.70 (1992) and $350.15 (1994). Anadarko area has a higher per capita funding distribution: $808.03 (1991), $915.28 (1992), and $698.43 (1994). However, Muskogee area has lower per capita funding rates than California. The rates for Muskogee area are $175.50 (1991), $109.27 (1992), and $89.88 (1994). California Indians have one of the smallest per capita funding rates of all BIA areas, except for Muskogee, which has a very large service population of 222,956 in 1991 and 236,197 in 1993. At the same time, Indians in the Muskogee area have very little land, only an average of 3.32 acres per person. Both California Indians and Muskogee area Indians are underfunded and have the smallest land bases of all BIA areas.

Eastern Oklahoma is the location were many Indian nations from east of the Mississippi River were forced to migrate under the 1830 Indian Removal Act. Between 1830 and 1877, many Indian communities and tribes were resettled in eastern Oklahoma, and at one time there was discussion of creating and admitting an Indian state to the Union. A very large amount of Indian land in eastern Oklahoma was allotted under the General Allotment Act of 1887, the Curtis Act of 1898, and various acts affecting tribal lands in Oklahoma. Most of the land was allotted to individuals, and many Indians subsequently lost their allotments to fraud, failure to pay taxes, or mortgage foreclosure. This process is described in Angie Debo's book And Still the Water Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes (1940). As a result, eastern Oklahoma has a large Indian population and relatively little land in trust status.

The ways and the extent to which Indians lost land in California differs greatly from the allotment process and statehood forged in Oklahoma. Unlike Oklahoma, where land was granted by treaty and later distributed by allotment, California Indian land treaties were not recognized, and only after considerable dispersal and population decline were small amounts of land granted to some California Indians. California Indians also suffered disproportionately from the Termination policy, in which forty-two reservations and rancherias were terminated from the early 1950s to as late as the early 1970s. So far 29 reservations and rancherias have been restored, but some are without land, and most others have only small parcels of land restored. Many other California Indian communities are yet to gain federal recognition and therefore do not have federally recognized trust land. The history of California over the past 150 years is full of efforts to deny California Indians land and community identity. As a consequence, California Indians have retained relatively little land, which inhibits community economic development and puts California Indians at a disadvantage in BIA distribution formulas. California Indians are suffering economic and federal aid losses owing to their historical dispossession of land, which is one of the worst in the nation.

Furthermore, the California land figures do not take into account the value of the land. Most California reservations and rancherias are very small. The few large reservations like Tule River with 55,536 acres of tribal land and Round Valley with 24,925 tribal acres and 5,612 acres of public domain allotments, in general, have very marginal land for agriculture or economic development purposes. In fact much of the land on Round Valley Reservation and Tule River Reservation is comprised of mountain tops and is very isolated from commerce and effective roadways. The largest land-based California reservations and rancherias are Tule River, Round Valley, Hoopa with 87,000 acres, Agua Caliente with 23,173 acres, Chemehuevi with 30,654 acres, Fort Mohave with 12,633 acres, Los Coyotes with 25,049 acres, La Jolla with 8,541 acres, Pala with 11,892 acres, Rincon with 4,275 acres, Santa Ysabel with 15,500 acres, Soboba with 5,915 acres, Fort Bidwell with 3,334, and Colorado River with 42,900 acres. The fourteen largest reservations and rancherias hold 354,939 acres or 76.6 percent of California Indian trust land. The remaining 90 reservations and rancherias hold very small amounts of tribal land. For example, in the Central California Agency, 40 of 52 federally recognized tribes hold 200 or fewer acres of land. Most California Indian reservations and rancherias are very small, and are often located in marginal economic areas and with little access to commerce and regular traffic.

The reasons for the divergence in land retention between the Indians of various states can be explained only by the historical circumstances and actions taking place over the past two centuries. It is not our purpose to take up this issue here. However, Muskogee area and California both have histories of large-scale land dispossession, and both areas have the smallest per capita funding levels.

According to BIA figures, California Indians have one of the smallest per capita land bases and BIA funding levels of any BIA service area in the nation. Only Muskogee area Indians have less land and less funding per capita than California Indians. The historical dispossession of California Indian lands has caused considerable disruption and economic loss among California Indians. The severe history of California Indian land dispossession, however, is aggravated by one of the lowest per capita funding levels within the BIA system. In the case of the California and Muskogee area Indians, the two BIA service areas with the least land left in federal trust are also the two areas with the lowest per capita distribution of BIA funds.

California Indian land holdings are far below the national per capita average of 59.2 acres. Real California land holdings are estimated at 8.65 acres per person. In order to gain parity with other Indians, the California Indian land base needs augmentation of about seven times beyond the present level of 463,000 acres to 3,241,000 acres.

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Last Updated :  Monday, October 14, 1996