Tribal Government Leadership Forum
Summary of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934
Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C.A. §§ 461 et seq., or the Wheeler-Howard Act, to secure new rights for Native Americans by restoring their right to manage land and assets, preventing further depletion of reservation resources, ensuring a sound economic foundation for reservations and inhabitants, and encouraging a return to tribal self-government and self-determination. The IRA also authorized the Secretary of the Interior to “acquire land and water rights, and to create new reservations.” The IRA encouraged tribes to implement written constitutions and charters for the purpose of giving tribes the freedom to self-govern. It also authorized funds in a revolving credit account for tribal land purchases, educational assistance, and aiding the organization of tribal government.
FACTS, OPINIONS, AND HISTORICAL IMPLICATIONS
- The Act’s provisions regarding tribal government organization do not
apply to tribes that voted against its application.
- The Act was passed during the Roosevelt administration and it was considered to be the cornerstone of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier’s “Indian New Deal.”
- Approximately 160 tribes implemented constitutions based on the Act’s provisions.
- The IRA successfully prevented “further erosion of a land base,” given that over two million acres of land were returned to the tribes in the twenty years after the passage of the Act.
- The IRA was less successful in its goal to aid tribes in achieving self-governance.
- The United States did not fully recognize the tribal right to self-govern, since many decisions were still subject to approval by the Secretary of the Interior.
SUMMARIES OF SECTIONS 461-479
§ 461. Allotment of land on Indian reservations – An end of individual allotments.
§ 462. Existing periods of trust and restrictions on alienation extended - Extends the trust of lands indefinitely, exempts land from federal and state taxes, and sale of tribal lands.
§ 463. Restoration of lands to tribal ownership – Authorizes the Secretary (of the Interior) to place lands opened for homesteading to be placed back into trust if in the public interest.
§ 464. Transfer of restricted Indian lands or shares in assets of Indian tribes or corporation; exchange of lands- No exchange or transfer of Indian lands is allowed unless the transferred is between two tribal entities and the exchange is beneficial to both parties.
§ 465. Acquisition of lands, water rights or surface rights; appropriation; title to lands; tax exemption – Only the Secretary may restore lands to reservation status, at their discretion. A maximum sum of $2,000,000 in one fiscal year (FY) may be used to purchase land for Indians. However, the money is not to be used to expand Navajo, or any NM reservations.
§ 466. Indian forestry units: rules and regulations – The Secretary is directed to make rules to allow for forestry and grazing activity on Indian lands for the economic benefit tribes.
§ 467. New Indian reservations – The Secretary may create new Indian reservations or add new lands to existing reservations for the exclusive use of Indians entitled by enrollment.
§ 468. Allotments or holdings outside of reservations – Nothing in this Act relates to those Indian land-holdings and allotments outside the geographic boundary of a reservation.
§ 469. Indian corporations; appropriation for organizing – Budget of $250,000/yr. to defray the cost of creating corporations or other organizations prescribed by this Act.
§ 470. Revolving fund; appropriation for loans – Budget of $20,000,000 for loans to Indian chartered corporations for economic development; loan payments go back into the fund.
§ 471. Vocational and trade schools; appropriation for tuition – Budget of $250,000/yr. for loans to pay for tuition at recognized vocational and trade schools.
§ 472. Standards for Indians appointed to Indian Office – Standards for appointed office set by Secretary (health, age, character, experience, knowledge, and ability).
§ 473. Application generally – This Act does not apply to US Territories, Colonies. Certain provisions do not apply to Alaska natives, the Klamath in Oregon, or to Oklahoma tribes.
§ 474. Continuation of allowances - Continuation of the cash allowance, or land allotment provisions contained in specific treaties with the Sioux.
§ 475. Claims or suits of Indian tribes against United States; rights unimpaired – This Act does not impair any claim or suit of any Indian tribe against the United States, and expenditures prescribed will not be used to offset any settlement of such claims.
§ 476. Organization of Indian tribes; constitution and bylaws and amendment thereof; special election- Any Indian tribe shall have sovereign power to organize for its common welfare. This section prescribes the powers and privileges of tribal governments that have an IRA constitution.
§ 477. Incorporation of Indian tribes; charter; ratification by election- The Secretary of the Interior may issue a charter of incorporation to a tribe that petitions for such incorporation. This is an alternative for a tribe to a constitution – the alternative being a tribal corporate charter.
§ 478. Acceptance optional- The Act does not apply when a majority votes against it.
§ 479. Definitions- “Indian” includes those persons who are of Indian descent and members of a tribe.