Stigler Act Amendment Signed by President; A Huge Victory for Cherokee Families
A new federal law signed by the President is a remedy for a huge injustice that has led to a devastating loss of land over the last seven decades for the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Muscogee (Creek) Nations. The president signed a bill that amended the Stigler Act of 1947 and was co-authored by Oklahoma Congressmen and tribal citizens Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullen (Cherokee).
Now, enrolled tribal citizens of the Five Tribes will be able to inherit their family’s allotted land and keep it in restricted fee status without having to meet a required blood quantum. The Stigler Act had unfairly burdened citizens of the Five Tribes and prevented an Indian from inheriting land within the Five Tribes in restricted fee if he or she is below one-half degree of Indian blood.
Leaders and citizens of the Five Tribes have sought to remove that requirement for decades, and I am so proud we have finally achieved this for future generations.
The Stigler Act was devised and executed during the Termination Era, a time when a federal policy was designed to dramatically diminish tribal homelands. The purpose of the 1947 Act was to move Indian land from tribal ownership to non-Indian ownership. It was devastatingly effective in accomplishing that goal:
· The Five Tribes in 1916 held more than 15 million acres of restricted land.
· 100 years later – in 2015 - it was just over 380 thousand acres.
· That means out of every 160-acre allotment only 4 acres remain.
· Cherokee Nation was allotted roughly 4.3 million acres and today we have approximately 46,000 acres remaining in restricted status within our jurisdictional boundaries. That’s only one percent of the original allotment land.
· From 2011 to 2015 alone, Cherokee Nation lost 534 acres of restricted fee land due in part to the blood quantum requirement.
Citizens of other tribes never lost their allotted lands due to the blood degree of an individual Indian. But within our tribes, when restricted land was passed to heirs with less than one-half blood degree, all of the lands legal protections were stripped away forever. This has been in stark contrast to modern federal policy toward Indian tribes to restore tribal homelands.
Collectively the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Muscogee (Creek) governments represent more than 750,000 tribal citizens throughout the United States and this change was something the Inter-tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes has long advocated for.
For far too long, the blood quantum stipulation has tied up land titles and prevented families from keeping their inheritance. The new law clarifies that lineal descendants of an original enrollee of the Five Tribes may maintain their restricted land, regardless of the degree of blood of the landowner.
This will not reverse decades of land loss, and it will not create any new restricted land. But it will help prevent any more of our tribal land from falling out of restricted status over the wishes of the owners. And it will provide much-needed parity to the owners of restricted allotments within the Five Tribes.
We cannot overemphasize what this means to our tribal citizens. As Cherokees, we treasure the restricted land allotments and the link they represent to both our families and to our tribe. Cherokees deserve the right to pass their lands onto their heirs and hold onto those significant family and tribal connections. We are thankful for the lawmakers in Washington who took the time to understand this issue, and what it means for the Five Tribes in Oklahoma and our future.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.