Indian Reorganization Act

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The Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act or informally, the Indian New Deal, was a U.S. federal legislation which secured certain rights to Native Americans, including Alaska Natives.[1] These include a reversal of the Dawes Act's privatization of common holdings of American Indians and a return to local self-government on a tribal basis. The Act also restored to Native Americans the management of their assets (being mainly land) and included provisions intended to create a sound economic foundation for the inhabitants of Indian reservations. Section 18 of the IRA conditions application of the IRA on a majority vote of the affected Indian nation or tribe within one year of the effective date of the act (25 U.S.C. 478). The IRA was perhaps the most significant initiative of John Collier Sr., Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1933 to 1945.

The act did not require tribes to adopt a constitution. However, if the tribe chose to do so, the constitution had to:

Evidently, some of these restrictions were eliminated by the Native American Technical Corrections Act of 2003.[2]

The act slowed the practice of assigning tribal lands to individual tribal members and reduced the loss, through the practice of checkerboarding land sales to non-members within tribal areas, of native holdings. Owing to this Act and to other actions of federal courts and the government, over two million acres (8,000 kmĀ²) of land were returned to various tribes in the first 20 years after passage of the act.

In 1954, the United States Department of Interior began implementing the termination and relocation phases of the Act. Among other effects, termination resulted in the legal dismantling of 61 tribal nations within the United States.

This act was based upon the thought that tribes should be in existence for an indefinite period of time.[3]

Constitutional challenges

The Supreme Court has been asked repeatedly to address the constitutionality( relevance to the constitution ), of the IRA. In 1995, the Eighth Circuit declared the IRA unconstitutional.[4] The U.S. Department of the Interior sought U.S. Supreme Court review. The DOI then implemented new regulations and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to remand the case to the lower courts to reconsider their decision based on the new regulations. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition, vacated the lower court's ruling and remanded the case back to the lower court. Justices Scalia, O'Connor and Thomas dissented and stated that "[t]he decision today--to grant, vacate, and remand in light of the Government's changed position--is both unprecedented and inexplicable." and "[w]hat makes today's action inexplicable as well as unprecedented is the fact that the Government's change of legal position does not even purport to be applicable to the present case."[5] Seven months after the Supreme Court's decision to grant, vacate, and remand, the DOI removed the land from trust. In 1997 the Tribe submitted an amended application to the Secretary, requesting that the United States take the land into trust on the Tribe's behalf. The Eighth Circuit reexamined the constitutionality issue and affirmed the IRA's constitutionality.

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