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Passage of the Stigler Act Amendments of 2018 a Huge Win for the Five Tribes

by BRADLEY GERNAND

Restrictions on land transfers which have troubled Choctaw families for  decades have now been removed, eliminating a long-standing injustice.

Legislation signed into law Dec. 31, 2018 by President Donald Trump eliminates  a restriction on land inheritance by members of the Five Tribes which dated  from 1947. 
The restriction, which was part of the Stigler Act, took away the right of  tribal citizens possessing less than one-half degree Indian blood quantum from  inheriting land from their forebears and retaining it as "Indian land."
Until passage of the Stigler Act the government administered strict protections  on land which had been allotted to original enrollees, limiting the ability to sell  or transfer it, or for counties to tax it, without federal approval.
After passage of the Stigler Act these lands were no longer protected during  probate proceedings if heirs of allotted land possessed less than one-half degree  Indian blood quantum. Federal law did not dictate a minimum Native American  blood degree requirement for any other Native American tribes. 
During recent years more and more Choctaw citizens have been blocked from  inheriting interests in lands allotted to their Choctaw ancestors because they did  not meet the Stigler Act's 50 percent blood quantum threshold. 
As of early 2016, "after a century of staggering losses of Choctaw Indian lands,"  the Choctaw Nation says, the number of allotted lands within its boundaries was  reduced to 135,263 acres, down from almost 7 million acres following the original  allotments. 
As the members of earlier generations continued to pass, the problem deepened.  Since the beginning of 2017, at least 40 Choctaw citizens who are heirs of original  allottees lost their restricted interests in at least 2,800 acres as a consequence of the  Stigler Act. Those lands then  lost their protected status and  the characteristics originally  defining them as Indian lands  and have now come under  state and county taxation. 
In July 2015, with the scope  of the problem rapidly becoming apparent, Choctaw Nation Chief Gary  Batton joined leaders of the other Five Tribes in calling on Oklahoma's  congressional delegation to address the injustices of the Stigler Act.  The chiefs, during a meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five  Civilized Tribes, signed a unanimous resolution denouncing the  impacts of the act. 
Responding to the chiefs' plea, Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican member  of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma, sponsored  legislation in May 2017 designed to amend the Stigler Act. This  effort, which was co-sponsored by other members of the House from  Oklahoma, culminated Dec. 31, 2018, with President Trump signing the  amendment into law. 
Removal of these unfair restrictions "restores the Choctaw Nation,  and its citizens, to the same parity treatment that the United States  accords other Indian tribes and tribal members outside of eastern  Oklahoma," the Choctaw Nation said in a statement. 
"This legislation is a tremendous win for all Oklahoma tribes and  Native Americans in the state," Chief Batton said, following the  president's signature. "Native people will be better able to protect  tribal lands and maintain generation-to-generation ownership and  connection to our land." 
Rep. Cole agreed, saying "Many of Oklahoma's citizens have passed  out of half-blood lineage, but remain vested to their Native American  heritage. Removing the half-blood degree prerequisite and expanding  its range to any degree will help preserve the rights and legacy of  Native American tribes and their inheritance." Cole is a member of  the Chickasaw Nation. 
The recently signed amendment does not reverse past injustices  caused by the 71-year-old Stigler Act, but prevents future ones from occurring,  according to Donna Loper, the Choctaw Nation's senior director of land titles  and records. For original Indian land to still be restricted today it has to have  "never been sold and never passed by probate to someone who is less than halfblood." 
President Trump's signature on Dec. 31 was the latest development in a process  which stretches back approximately 120 years. 
During the waning days of the Indian Territory, as it became clear the lands  inhabited by what were then known as the Five Civilized Tribes were-contrary  to longstanding treaties-eventually to be part of a new state in the United  States, Congress acted to begin the process known as "allotment." 
Lands in the Five Tribes had until that time been held by each tribe in common,  with no individual ownership. In the United States, however, land is generally  owned by specific individuals or entities and taxed by their governments. Congress  established a commission to create membership rolls for each of the Five Tribes.  Following completion,they divided tribal lands among tribal members. Oklahoma  came into existence in November 1907 with lands within its borders allotted to  these original enrollees protected at the federal level. The rest was taxed. 
Potential negative impacts arising from the Stigler Act were not universally  evident in 1947. An issue of Smoke Signals, the journal of the Indian Association  of America, reported at the time that the Stigler Act was passed so Choctaws  and Chickasaws "could sell their lands to the government." This apparently was  considered an advance or improvement. President Harry S. Truman, in affixing his  signature to the act, the journal said, "wrote the happy ending to the story." 
But that was not the end, and it was not happy. A wrong has been righted, and the  process continues. With faith, family and culture as their longstanding mainstays,  the future continues to brighten for one of the world's most historic peoples. 
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The Stigler Act Amendments of 2018 were signed into law by President Trump Dec. 31, 2018. The legislation applies to citizens of the Five Tribes: Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole nations. These amendments end the requirement for holders of tribal allotment land from those tribes to have a certain percentage of tribal blood.
 
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