Earlier this week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) announced its Final Rule regarding title evidence for trust land acquisitions. Although it was originally intended to go into effect on April 15, 2016, as described in Trust Lands an Easier Target for Tribes, it extended the postponed the effective date to May 16, 2016 to review comments and make technical revisions.
The final rule, available here, clarifies the text of the proposed rule and eliminates unnecessary redundancies. Most commentators supported the rule, but some felt that the current Department of Justice Standards (DOJ) are necessary to protect the public and protect against conflicts of interest. The BIA ultimately found the final rule to provide “sufficient standards to protect the United States.”
The final rule clarifies that written evidence of title includes the applicant’s deed or, if the applicant does not have title, the transferors’ deed and a written statement that it will transfer title to the United States on behalf of the applicant. It also deletes the requirements from the proposed rule regarding the need to provide written evidence of how the applicant or the current owner acquired title, determining that this requirement was redundant of other requirements. The BIA has also updated the Fee-to-Trust Handbook, available here, to reflect the new changes.
Only time will tell if the new rule has a significant positive impact on the fee-to-trust review process, but for now we will remain cautiously optimistic.
Gabriela is an attorney with the Native American Law Practice Group and citizen of the Cahuilla Band of Indians. She graduated from the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in 2015 and was recently admitted to the State Bar of California.
Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 619.515.3277.