Feds Ease Leasing Rules On Tribal Lands

With the new leasing rules, Native Americans hope to develop renewable energy projects like this wind farm in the Mexican state of Baja California.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra
December 05, 2011

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The federal government has changed land leasing rules to make it easier for tribes to build housing and businesses. The move came after President Barack Obama met with Native American leaders in Washington D.C. the first week of December.

Tribal land cannot be bought and sold because it’s held in a government trust. If a tribe wants to build a house or business, the interior secretary must first approve a lease or mortgage.

Under the proposed changes, the government has to approve leases in a timely manner. If officials don’t meet deadlines, leases would automatically be approved. The 50-year-old rules have been called “paternalistic.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it takes time to change history.

"We have for three years worked very hard to change the relationship between the administration and the nation’s first Americans," Salazar said.

The changes open the door for badly-needed housing development on reservations, and for wind and solar energy projects that tribes have been eager to launch.

The National American Indian Housing Council said this is a good first step. But tribes would like even more authority.