ILTF provides grant funding to Indian nations to support various aspects of land recovery with a focus on reacquiring alienated reservation lands. Returning lands to Indian ownership and control is important to ensure that Indian people have, at minimum, access to the financial and natural resources within their own reservations. ILTF supports a variety of initiatives to assist tribes in the development of plans to reacquire reservation lands, including land and natural resource management plans that identify the future use and benefits of recovered lands. These plans are critical as tribes negotiate for the transfer of federal, state, municipal, and private lands to Indian ownership and control and seek loans to purchase lands.
Beyond Land Acknowledgement Fund
Empty words. To many in Indian Country, that’s what land acknowledgements are. As more and more local governments, universities and other organizations make land acknowledgement statements at press conferences, community gatherings and public events, it raises an obvious question: Now what?
These ‘all talk, no action’ type of statements have long been a sore spot for ILTF president Cris Stainbrook. “They just do the acknowledgement and figure that lets them off the hook,” he said. “It alleviates their guilt a little I guess. The organization gets nice press coverage, but it never results in any change in behavior or any land back to the tribes. There needs to be some sort of action taken or the land acknowledgement is meaningless.”
When Stainbrook went to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis in the fall of 2022 to speak to members of the congregation about Indian land, he was simply taking another opportunity to educate the community. It’s something he’s done several times a year over the past two decades and there was no expectation that this brief encounter would be anything unusual. “When I go out and speak,” Stainbrook explained, “I have told any number of different groups that ‘I’m not here to ask for your money. What I’m asking for is your understanding.’”
When Stainbrook’s presentation concluded, the pastor stepped forward to say thank you, read the congregation’s land acknowledgement out loud, and handed Stainbrook an envelope. “She said, ‘Here’s a little something to help you get land back.’ When I opened the envelope I was in shock.” Inside was a check to ILTF for $250,000.
“It blew me away,” said Stainbrook. “It shows that they aren’t just going to church on Sunday to talk about it. They are living their values. This is a community of people who are making a statement. It’s not just one person, it’s the body, it’s the whole. They need to be recognized for taking such a substantial step, for saying, ‘We are serious about this.’”
Many churches have engaged in learning and conversation with Indigenous communities in an attempt to build understanding and bridge longstanding gaps. For Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen and the congregation, there was a need to do more. “For many years, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has been publicly saying that ‘We gather on the Dakota Homeland,’” she explained. “More recently, church leaders crafted a longer land acknowledgment that states that the land our congregation currently occupies was taken from the Dakota Nation and other Indigenous peoples through exploitation and violence. Because our church benefited from the land theft, we recognize our responsibility to advocate for treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and movements to return land back into Indigenous hands. The significance of this sacred ground – as well as its painful history – compels us as a congregation to engage in reparative justice in words and deeds and dollars.”
Holy Trinity is not a wealthy congregation by any means. Located in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis, just one block from the epicenter of the massive unrest that occurred following the murder of George Floyd, the church has been deeply rooted in the diverse, immigrant-rich Longfellow neighborhood since 1904, with a well-established commitment to social justice, community service, and involvement in the moral and ethical issues of the day.
“The taking of land from Indian people may not affect members of the congregation on a day-to-day basis,” said Stainbrook, “but every day it is affecting the people they got the land from. I think that’s one of the underlying drivers of this. They recognize that the displacement literally caused Indian people to be put into poverty for generations right up to the present day.”
The donation came with no strings attached. ILTF made the decision to create the Beyond Land Acknowledgement Fund to serve as a conduit for others – organizations, institutions, governments and the like – to turn talk into action. ILTF has facilitated numerous projects large and small over the past 20 years that have seen Indian land returned to Indian hands. Now there is a way for many more organizations and individuals to participate in a meaningful way.
“For those entities that want to put their money where their mouth is there hasn’t been a good vehicle to do that,” Stainbrook said. “To be fair, it hasn’t been easy. They can’t see themselves buying land and returning it. They wouldn’t know where to begin. The ILTF Beyond Land Acknowledgement Fund enables us to collectively pool that money to make purchases. It offers a vehicle for those entities who want to take that next step and actually do something about returning land and making it right.”
From the transfer of government land to small donations collected in elementary schools, now there is an opportunity for anyone to act collectively on a much larger scale. ILTF has the experience and knowledge to put complex land transactions together as well as a proven record of sound fiscal management. There are countless historic and religious sites across Indian Country that are meaningful to tribal communities, as well as historic fishing and hunting land that could be returned. “We’re not talking about huge amounts of land,” Stainbrook said. “They aren’t going to add up to thousands of acres, but they are going to add up to a lot of value for Indian Country because these places are important to our Indian people.”
For the folks at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, ILTF was the right organization to work with. “When the congregation was discerning how to redistribute funds tied to the sale of land, our relationship with ILTF and our confidence in its mission led us to make an unrestricted donation to further their work,” said Pastor Rasmussen. “We know $250,000 is a small gift and an imperfect beginning, but it’s one intentional, reparative step among many that we hope to take in the years to come.”
To learn more about the ILTF Land Acknowledgement Fund please contact David Garelick via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some examples of ILTF’s efforts to help return Indian Lands to Indian hands.
Bois Forte Band recovers 28,000 acres
In June of 2022, the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, ILTF and its subsidiary Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC) announced the completed purchase of land that restored to the Band more than 28,000 acres of land within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation.
The Band’s acquisition of 28,089 acres previously held by timberland owner and lumber manufacturer PotlatchDeltic Corporation constitutes the largest restoration of land since the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation were established in Minnesota under the Treaty of 1866. Plans are underway for the Band to directly manage the restored lands under a forest management plan that emphasizes conservation and environmental protection balanced with economic and cultural benefits to the Band and its members.
The Band entered into a treaty with the United States in 1854 that set aside a region around Lake Vermilion as a reservation, which was later defined through an 1881 Executive Order. In its 1866 Treaty with the United States, the Band reserved two additional sectors at Nett Lake and Deer Creek to serve as its permanent homeland. However, just 20 years later, the federal government changed course, dividing the Reservation land and selling it to timber companies and homesteaders under the General Allotment and Nelson Acts. PotlatchDeltic eventually came to own significant acreages on the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors of the Reservation.
While some land was restored to the Band in 1938 under the Indian Reorganization Act, control of significant swaths of land within the 111,787-acre Nett Lake and 22,927-acre Deer Creek sectors remained out of Band ownership. But an opportunity for the Band to regain 28,089 acres – 21% of the total land base within the Nett Lake and Deer Creek sectors – emerged after PotlatchDeltic sold most of its land in Minnesota to The Conservation Fund in 2020. The national environmental nonprofit acquired over 72,000 acres of forestland, including 28,089 acres within the Bois Forte Reservation (27,565 acres in Nett Lake and 524 acres in Deer Creek). Conversations between the Band and the Fund about the lands within the Reservation began shortly thereafter.
The Band’s purchase was financed by the Indian Land Capital Company, a Certified Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) providing alternative loan options to Native Nations for tribal land acquisition projects. ILCC is owned by the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, a national, community-based organization serving tribal nations and people in the recovery and control of their rightful homelands.
A combination of conservation incentive payments under the Minnesota Sustainable Forest Initiative Act, coupled with other sustainable revenue streams that can be derived from the forest, will allow the Band to fully fund this acquisition and promptly pay off the purchase price. Later, the revenue generated from the land will support the Band’s land acquisition and conservation efforts.
Kashia Recover Coastal Land
Image: The Kashia have recovered 700 acres of their traditional homeland to preserve for future generations.
Nearly 150 years after being forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to an inland reservation, the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in Sonoma County, Calif., once again have access to the Pacific Ocean. On June 15, 2016, the Tribe celebrated the recovery of nearly 700 acres, a milestone made possible with the help of the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) and its affiliate, the Indian Land Capital Company (ILCC).
“This acquisition would not have been possible without the assistance of ILTF and ILCC,” said Kashia Tribal Chairman Reno Keoni Franklin. “Not only did they play a major financial role in our acquisition of the property, they also provided valuable advice and were a strong voice of empowerment for us when we doubted if we could complete the purchase.”
ILCC extended a loan to Kashia in 2015 to purchase the land north of San Francisco, which features redwood forest, towering coastal bluffs and spectacular waterfalls. The Tribe has established the Kashia Coastal Reserve, a protected open space and demonstration forest to educate and engage the public about the history and practices of the Kashia people.
Learn more about success stories made possible with financing from Indian Land Capital Company at ilcc.net.
Snoqualmie Restore Homeland
Image: Snoqualmie Falls
The Snoqualmie, the People of the Moon, have been slowly but steadily reclaiming their homelands over the past half century. Their story, one of tragic loss and a hard fought recovery, represents one of the greatest comebacks in Indian Country. The Snoqualmie, one of the many tribes who make up the larger group of Coast Salish peoples, have historically lived in the Puget Sound region of Washington. Since time immemorial, the Snoqualmie hunted deer, elk, and other game animals, fished for salmon, and gathered berries and wild plants for food and medicinal purpose in the region. Snoqualmie Falls has always been at the center of the Tribe’s spiritual traditions and is regarded by the Tribe as its birthplace. At the time it signed the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855, which ceded their lands to the U.S. government, the Tribe was one of the largest in the Puget Sound region, numbering around 4,000 members.
The Tribe had been promised by the government that it would one day receive its own reservation but that promise, like so many others, was never kept. Many Snoqualmie stayed in the area, but some moved to other reservations in the Sound. In 1953, the Tribe suffered a major blow when it lost federal recognition due to a new federal policy that limited recognition to tribes that had reservations. Finding themselves both landless and without the resources to support their tribal members, many of whom were living in poverty, the Snoqualmie began the arduous process of rebuilding their nation and land base.
In 1999, after 46 years of petitioning, the Snoqualmie received re-recognition based on the evidence that they had maintained a continuous community from historical times to the present and in 2006 the Tribe received 55 acres for its initial reservation. They have since built a casino, the profits from which have allowed them to provide their 650 tribal members with basic services, improved housing conditions and new employment opportunities. In October 2006, ILTF made a $20,000 grant to the Snoqualmie Tribe to fund a strategic land planning training for tribal leaders and staff. The resulting document, “Where We Want to Be,” has been used by the Tribe to help it develop its larger, long-term vision and strategic plan for land recovery. In 2007, the ILTF-affiliated Indian Land Capital Company made a $1.2 million loan to the Tribe toward the purchase of 56 acres of land for healthcare, housing, tribal offices and other community purposes.
The Snoqualmie have also been been strengthening their cultural and spiritual ties to their homelands. In 2008 ILTF made a grant to the Tribe to produce an educational DVD of recorded interviews with tribal elders relating the history, culture and spiritual beliefs of the Tribe which has been used to educate tribal members about the places sacred to the Tribe and their historical and cultural importance.
Pine Ridge Landowners Project
ILTF’s land recovery efforts can take many forms such as the innovative landowners project on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. Funded in part by ILTF, the project enabled Pine Ridge landowners to learn more about the lands they own and about how they can use these lands to benefit themselves and their communities.
The Pine Ridge Reservation lost more than one-third of its land base as a result of the General Allotment Act when Indian ownership on the reservation went from 2.7 million acres to 1.7 million acres. Ownership of the remaining lands is now highly fractionated, making it almost impossible for landowners to gain the majority consent necessary to use the land for homesites, development or agriculture. In 2007 and 2008, ILTF awarded grants to Village Earth, a nonprofit focused on sustainable community development, to address the problem of fractionation on Pine Ridge. Working with Village Earth, Pine Ridge tribal members volunteered to lead an effort that encourages landowners to take control of their own lands. The project helped to build the capacity of traditional Lakota tiospayes (family groups) to recover, restore and manage the remaining land base.
To facilitate land use decision-making, Village Earth developed the “Pine Ridge Reservation Allottee Land-Planning Map Book,” which includes basic information about land use planning, as well as GIS maps of the entire reservation that tribal members can use to locate the lands they own. Community meetings and workshops were held throughout the reservation to inform tribal members about the project and encourage them to learn more about their rights and options as landowners.
Watch the video Village Earth produced, which provides an excellent historical account of land loss on the reservation and includes interviews with many of the project participants.
Coos Bay Tribes' Sacred Sites
In 2008, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians recovered 24 acres of their homelands on the Oregon coast, including Gregory Point and Chief’s Island, which contain the site of a historic village and a tribal cemetery. While 24 acres may not seem significant to some, the Tribes had lost their entire land base in 1956 when their federal recognition was terminated. It was not until 1984 that the Tribes regained federal recognition and started to slowly piece their homelands back together. The recent recovery of these culturally significant lands represents a major victory for the Tribes.
ILTF awarded the Tribes a $171,530 grant in 2003 to document significant cultural and sacred sites within the Siuslaw National Forest and to use this research to create public awareness about the Tribes’ historical and cultural ties to the land to assist in their land recovery efforts. Now tribal members are able to pay respects to their ancestors and perform traditional ceremonies on the recovered homelands.