A bill to authorize the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease or transfer certain land
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
SENATE COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS
September 23, 2020
Thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s (Department) views on S. 4079, a bill to authorize the Seminole Tribe of Florida to lease or transfer certain land, and for other purposes.
S. 4079 would expressly allow the Seminole Tribe of Florida (Tribe) to lease, sell, convey, warrant, or otherwise transfer all or part of the Tribe’s real property that is not held in trust by the United States without further approval, ratification, or authorization by the United States. Under S. 4079, action by the United States is not required to validate the Tribe’s land transactions for Tribally owned fee land. The legislation clearly states that S. 4079 does not authorize the Tribe to lease, sell, convey, warrant, or otherwise transfer lands held in trust or affect the operation of any law governing such transactions. The Department defers to Congress on this specific matter.
Further, the Department believes that this legislation would be unnecessary, at least as applied to off-reservation lands, if Congress clarified that all Tribes had authority to lease, sell, convey, warrant or otherwise transfer all or part of their off-reservation fee property. Congress should enact more general legislation that extends this authority to all Tribes. Over the years, individual tribes have expressed that they have encountered difficulties when attempting to lease, sell, convey, warrant, or otherwise transfer all or any part of their interests in any off-reservation real property not held in trust by the United States unless authorized by Congress. Tribes are presumably referring to federal law, 25 U.S.C. §177, which prohibits any “purchase, grant, lease, or other conveyance of lands, or of any title or claim thereto, from any Indian nation or tribe of Indians.” We urge Congress to clarify the issue of whether fee land owned by a tribe would fall under this prohibition, and to do so by expressly providing that tribes may transfer off reservation fee lands that they own. Such a clarification will remove obstacles to economic development opportunities and enhance tribal sovereignty.
The Department appreciates the opportunity to present its views on S. 4079. This bill would enable the Tribe to more effectively manage its fee property by clarifying its legal authority to do so. Moreover, the Department notes that Congress should enact more general legislation that extends authority to lease, sell, convey, warrant or otherwise transfer all or part of their off-reservation fee property to all Tribes.