Know About H.R. 2606
Tribal law and the heritage and culture of Oklahoma’s many Tribes both play a crucial and decorated role in our state, from the importance of cultural heritage and traditions to debates surrounding sovereignty and matters of law regarding family, property, estate planning, guardianships, and many other facets of life where Oklahoma and Tribal law intermingle, and occasionally clash. While there is a long procedural history of the legal relationship between the Tribes and Oklahoma, certain cases and legislation have had a more direct and lasting impact upon citizens that is still felt today. A recent example is H.R. 2606, an amendment to the Stigler Act of 1947 which abolishes the blood quantum requirement for possession of restricted Indian land. In order to garner a more thorough and educated understanding of H.R. 2606 and the potential consequences of its enactment, one must first delve into the Stigler Act of 1947, the concept of restricted property, and the ways in which H.R. 2606 became a necessary piece of legislation in the campaign to preserve and restore tribal sovereignty in Oklahoma.
On August 4th, 1947, Oklahoma enacted the Stigler Act, which governed the Five Tribes’ restricted status of their property based on the blood quantum, a term used to define bloodlines relating to one’s Tribal ancestry, of the present owner of the property and the conveyance, or non-conveyance, thereof. Restricted status of property means that land owned by a Tribal member of one-half blood quantum or more of the Five Civilized Tribes (the Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Tribes of Oklahoma) is defined as tax exempt and cannot be sold without the approval of the Department of the Interior or District Court in the county in which the land is located. Restricted status assisted in protecting Tribal members from having their land unjustly seized via unconscionable contracts or other underhanded means of conveyance. Once land is owned by an individual with less than one-half blood quantum, the land subsequently loses its restricted status, thus diminishing the allotment of the respective Tribe. Thus, when a person owning restricted land passes away, all heirs and devisees with a blood quantum of less than one-half will inherit land unable to continue its restricted status.
Under the Stigler Act, otherwise known as the 47 Act, property passing by inheritance to an heir with less than a half blood quantum of one of the Five Civilized Tribes would lose its restricted status upon being conveyed to that heir. To convey restricted land by agreement, a hearing must be set for conveyance of the restricted property at issue in the Court of the county in which the land is situated. At the hearing, the Court has discretion to determine the best interest of the Tribal member and the validity of the conveyance. Upon approval by the Court, which may be conditional, the land is deemed properly conveyed. Similar to the inheritance issue in probate proceedings, land conveyed to a party with less than a half blood quantum would lose its restricted status as well.
Once real property has lost its restricted status, the property cannot regain its restricted status. However, one alternate method of protecting and preserving one’s land that has lost its restricted status is to place it in trust, which is generally left to the discretion of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. When real property is placed in trust, the United States of America holds it in trust for an individual Tribal member by protecting the land, thus submitting it to federal jurisdiction for the benefit of the Tribal member. Land held in trust can only be conveyed or encumbered with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior. Trust land’s status is not subject to change due to the blood quantum or tribal affiliation of the owner and the land is deemed to be under the jurisdiction and protection of the local tribe.
For real property that is still restricted, H.R. 2606 is a welcome development for those that are interested in keeping their land restricted, despite the blood quantum of the present tribal owners. H.R. 2606 is an amendment to the Stigler Act signed by the President on December 31st, 2018 that abolished the blood quantum requirement for those inheriting lands originally allotted to members of the Five Civilized Tribes. Thus, restricted land will remain restricted for all lineal descendants of an original enrollee whose name appears on the membership rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes. While some families have delayed probating a loved one’s estate due to fear of losing restricted status, H.R. 2606 allows those with a lower blood quantum but still wishing to inherit restricted property to do so.
Let Our Team Help You!
Let our team at South County Law Firm help you take care of your loved one’s estate and guide you through the process of completing a long awaited probate action. We are very experienced with tribal law and property matters and will assist you in navigating any complex legal issues, in addition to utilizing H.R. 2606 to the fullest, to provide you efficient and low stress legal representation!