Placing tribal land into trust is a process whereby the secretary of the Department of the Interior acquires title to property and holds it for the benefit of a Native American tribe or individual tribal members.
Between 1887 and 1934, the federal government took nearly two-thirds of reservation lands from the tribes without compensation. The trust process was subsequently created as a tool to help tribes regain original land bases. The use of trust lands is governed by the tribes, subject to certain federal restrictions, and the land is usually not subject to state laws.
Most newly acquired tribal trust lands are located within Indian reservation boundaries or adjacent to them. Under certain conditions there may be off-reservation acquisitions. Typical uses of the acquired land include governmental operations, cultural activities, agricultural or forestry activities, increased housing, social and community services, health care and educational facilities. Placing land into trust for gaming purposes, however, has raised concerns in many states and has sometimes confused other legitimate purposes for the trust land designation.
It is important for states to understand the purpose of trust acquisitions, the process by which land is converted into trust, and the implications for governments at evry level. The key to making the land-into-trust process more acceptable for all interested parties is to ensure the process and utlimate decisions involve sufficient consultation among tribes and federal, state and local governments.