Mission & Strategies
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) is a national, community-based organization serving American Indian nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands. We work to promote education, increase cultural awareness, create economic opportunity, and reform the legal and administrative systems that prevent Indian people from owning and controlling reservation lands. As a community foundation, ILTF accepts contributions from organizations and individuals to support its grantmaking and program initiatives.
Our Mission: 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.
Our Strategies: ILTF will achieve its mission through the support and development of community-based projects that incorporate one or more of our four primary strategies: Education, Cultural Awareness, Economic Opportunity and Legal Reform.
Educate every Indian landowner about Indian land management, ownership and transference issues so that knowledge becomes power when decisions about land assets are made.
Rationale: In the community meetings that led up to the creation of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a central theme emerged during the discussions. Almost all the participants agreed that there is a lack of knowledge about land tenure among Indian people and this lack of knowledge has been the primary cause of most problems arising with Indian land such as the increase in fractionated ownership, the loss of Indian land, and the lack of Indian self-determination with respect to land use decisions. This lack of knowledge is widespread, from young children not understanding the creation stories of their tribe, to the elderly who typically have not been involved in estate planning. Knowledge about Indian land tenure must include information that emphasizes the unique relationship between Indian people and their land as well as skills to overcome systemic barriers faced in preserving and using land.
- Educate every tribe and Indian landowner about land tenure issues.
- Provide opportunities for education on strategic land planning in Indian Country.
- Develop multimedia learning tools covering Indian land tenure issues.
- Develop an information clearinghouse on Indian land tenure.
- Educate the public about Indian trust land.
- Promotion and encouragement of estate planning practices among Indian landowners.
- Creation of opportunities for land ownership and management education.
- Preservation and broader communication of elder wisdom concerning land.
- Development and implementation of workshops for landowners.
- Study, development, and communication of replicable planning strategies.
Use Indian land to help Indian people discover and maintain their culture.
Rationale: Revitalizing cultural and historical values related to Indian land strengthens Indian individuals and tribes. Among many American Indian groups, land is the basis of spiritual practices, beliefs, or worship. The land can be a keeper of memories, a portal to the spirit world, or a place to go for guidance and strength. Furthermore, the land supports activities central to the culture of tribes such as hunting, fishing, gathering and farming. The current system of inheritance of Indian land requires approval and support of cultural leaders and elders for widespread acceptance. The Indian land tenure community must initiate, develop and implement a new tribalism to reverse the current course of fractionation, loss of trust status lands, and diminishment of the reservation land base.
- Restore historical boundaries of Indian reservations and other Indian communities.
- Discover cultural wealth found in Indian Country and among Indian communities.
- Preserve status of off-reservation trust land for historical and cultural purposes.
- Develop resource centers for tribal histories.
- Aid in protecting land areas significant to tribes.
- Protect native plants.
- Present cultural land practices to youth, tribal leaders, and elders.
- Actively encourage and help tribes institute land and heritage preservation strategies.
Increase economic assets of Indian landowners by gaining control of Indian lands and creating financial models that convert land into leverage for Indian landowners.
Rationale: Indian Country has seen funding sources come and go over the past 100 years with largely unsuccessful efforts to reduce poverty and prevent further loss of Indian land. The Indian land tenure community looks to ILTF to help fix the economic imbalance plaguing tribal communities and restore Indian use and control of Indian land. Economic development and improved returns on land will create a sustainable Indian land tenure system on reservations and stronger communities. Both tribes and individual Indian landowners must acquire the economic knowledge and skills to eradicate poverty on reservations and strengthen Indian self-determination.
- Identify financial resources.
- Train landowners and managers in economic development planning.
- Promote and facilitate the inclusion of Indian landowners in land use decisions.
- Promote the attainment of fair market value for leases of Indian land.
- Develop and promote tribal and individual financial models.
- Develop and promote tribal and individual savings and investment models.
- Establish training opportunities.
- Identify best practices of cooperative relationships between financial institutions and Indian landowners
Reform the legal mechanisms related to recapturing the physical, cultural and economic assets for Indian people and strengthening sovereignty of Indian land.
Rationale: In a survey conducted by ILTF, the most striking result was that despite the assertion that most tribes have some control over their land, and the value individual Indians place on land is high, most respondents indicated that, in reality, land is not, or cannot be, used effectively in Indian Country. The respondents perceived great systemic barriers in the use of property rights related to land and natural resources. Much of this is due to the enormous amount and complexity of legislation, regulations, and court decisions involving Indian land. ILTF has been charged by the Indian land tenure community to take the lead in reforming these legal mechanisms in order to halt the loss of Indian land and strengthen Indian self-determination.
- Empower Indian landowners about Indian land tenure issues.
- Inform people about legislation, regulations and court decisions involving Indian land.
- Increase information about federal surplus land transfers by Congress.
- Educate tribal members about tribal, state and federal government relationships to Indian land.
- Identify best practices for land management.
- Gather and disseminate information regarding legal mechanisms involving Indian land.
- Identify best practices for land consolidation and management.
- Identify and acquire available federal surplus lands.
The Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) originated in the 1990s when a group of concerned Indian landowners, land rights advocates, and tribal leaders came together to do something about the serious problems affecting Indian land tenure – the terms and conditions by which Indians hold land. From their own experiences living and working in Indian Country, these individuals saw firsthand the many challenges and injustices Indian people were facing in respect to the ownership and management of their lands. They saw that:
- Indian lands were continuing to be lost to non-Indian ownership
- Fractionated ownership of Indian land title was making it increasingly difficult for Native people to use and benefit from their lands
- The federal system set up to manage and protect Indian trust lands and assets was causing Indian landowners to lose income from leases and other earnings
- The laws, policies and regulations dealing with Indian lands were inconsistent, often unjust and, in some cases, unconstitutional
At the time, organizations such as the Indian Land Working Group, Intertribal Agriculture Council, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Intertribal GIS, Native American Community Development Corporation, Indian Law Resource Center and others were working independently on specific aspects of Indian land tenure. However, even though these groups were making a difference in certain areas, a coordinated and focused effort was really needed to resolve the major Indian land tenure issues over the long term.
To address this need, the Northwest Area Foundation in 1998 provided technical and financial support to assist the Indian land tenure community (some of whom were either staff or board members of the organizations mentioned above) with a planning process to clarify the community’s goals and develop a broad-based strategic plan. Four years later in 2002, the Northwest Area Foundation provided a $20 million grant to create the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, with a mission to ensure that 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.
Recognizing that Indian land tenure involves a complex set of related issues, ILTF identified four overall strategies to address each major area of concern. These strategies are: education, cultural awareness, economic opportunity and legal reform.
As ILTF works toward its goals of land recovery and increased Indian ownership and control of Indian land and assets, it has continued to promote the following principles:
- Inclusion of diverse voices and interests from throughout the Indian land community
- Self-determination of tribes and Indian people
- Knowledge and the ability to take action
Since inception, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation has awarded more than $12.7 million in grants and contracts and has provided $11.7 million in direct program services.* ILTF continues to expand its grantmaking capabilities through its investments and the generous support of foundations, Indian nations, corporations and individual donors.