Environmental lands DepartmentLand Department

The Leech Lake Land Department is responsible for the administration and management of all tribal, band and allotted lands as it relates to surface and subsurface leasing, permitting and rights-of-way, land acquisition and disposal, trust estates planning and implementation of land use ordinances; in order to maximize utilization of Indian lands, generate revenue, assure all land transactions are advantageous to the Indian landowner; promote trust land consolidation activities and trust estate planning.

Questions about Indian Land

Where did my trust land/property come from?

Congress passed the General Allotment Act in 1887 and this law has remained on the books for over 100 years now and has impacted some four generations of Indian people. This Allotment Act defined a process to divide reservation land, distribute the property in 160-80-40- acre land parcels or "allotments" to individual Indians or "allottee", and sell the rest. An Indian who received a parcel is often referred to as the "original allottee".

What does the Allotment Act have to do with probate and my inheritance?

Once the law created individual ownership of Indian lands, some means of transferring that ownership was required. The allotment Act required the Federal government to follow state and territorial probate laws when dividing the estate among the heirs of the original allottee. These laws are still followed when it comes to probating the estates for Indian people. Today 11 million acres of trust land belongs to individual Indians and the land generally remains in the extended family of the original allottee.

If I inherited Indian land what do I really own?

Inheritance created what are called "undivided interests" or individual ownership in fractions of a parcel. In essence, you own a fraction of the original 160-, 80- or 40- acre parcel granted to your ancestor. For example, you may own 1/144 interest in the entire parcel but not 5 acres of land. Hence, the ownership interest are "undivided" or "held in common".

How did undivided interests occur?

As original allottees died, their allotments went to their heirs. Today the majority of allotments have many owners. If the land would be physically divided, some heirs would own less than ten-thousandth of an acre. Indian people continue to inherit small and smaller undivided ownership interests in the land with each succeeding generation. This dramatic increase in interests is known as fractionation.

How can I use my undivided interests in Indian lands?

Fractionation and undivided interests make it difficult for any one of the owners to use the land (i.e. farming or building a home) because other owners may have a right to consent to a particular use of land or when it is to be sold or partioned.

Why do some Indian people receive payments from their interest in Indian land?
Some 236,000 Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts receive deposits from income sources such as land lease, timber harvests, mining and mineral extraction, or other land-related income. In 2002 approximately $300 million was collected and distributed to the IIM accounts in proportion to the interests held by each individual. When the Indian account holder dies, the undistributed money remaining in the account is included in the probate by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Due to fractionation the money held in many of these accounts only amounts to a few cents.

For example, a timber sale of $1,000 on a 40-acre parcel pays significantly different amounts to Indian owners depending on their fractional interest in the land as follows:

Indian 1 1/4 Interest $250.00
Indian 2 1/144 Interest $6.95
Indian 3 1/856 Interest $1.17
Indian 4 1/1,034 Interest $0.0097

What can I do to limit fractionation?

Individuals can combat fractionation by having a will that provides for the distribution of the land asset to a smaller number of individuals. Fro example, you could provide for each child to receive interests in only one parcel rather than all children receiving small interests in all parcels. The Band will help you prepare your will for your trust property free of charge. Contact your local BIA office to your tribe.

In order to contend with the problem of fractionation and undivided interest, pilot programs on several reservations are currently being tested, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs purchasing small interests from willing sellers. This land returns to tribal ownership.

American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004

The American Indian Probate Reform Act (AIPRA) of 2004 was enacted on October 27, 2004. The Act amends the Indian Land Consolidation Act and amendments made in 2000 and this notice replaces the notice provided in 2001. This Act affects your ownership rights in trust or restricted land, unless the land is located in Alaska.

AIPRA changes the way trust estates are distributed to your heirs after your death. This increases the importance and benefits of writing a will or doing an estate plan. AIPRA also improves your ability to consolidate your interests in trus tor restricted land.

Section 1, Property Distribution, Wills, and Estate Planning

The Act creates a new nation-wide probate code that changes how your trust property will be distributed among your heirs if you die without a will. Other changes include amended definition of "Indian" and "eligible heirs" for purposes of inherited in trust. The changes also provide opportunities for Indians or the tribe to purchase your interest in trust or restricted land at probate. In order to give you time to plan, the inheritance changes takes effect after one (1) year. To help you understand some of the most important changes, you need to know what happens if you do not have a will or an estate plan.

Should you write a Will?

The new law protects your rights as a property owner to transfer your property by will. By writing a will, you can designate how your trust land will be transferred in trust to any Indian person or to your descendants even if they are not tribal members. You can control how your trust property is passed by creating an estate plan, such as a will or deed. There are also new provisions on wills. If you have already writtena will, you should review it to make sure the will says what you currently want.

Who can receive your property at death in trust?

Without a Will?

• If you do not write a will, your trust property will pass under the new federal probate code or approved tribal probate code, rather than under the state laws that currently govern Indian probate. Your trust land will continue to be inherited by your immediate family - first to your children or grandchildren or possibly great grandchildren, and if you have none, then to your parents or brothers and sisters. All of these people will be eligible to inherit your trust property as long as each meets the definition of Indian below, or are your descendants within two generations of an Indian, or they already are co-owners in the same parcel. Land inot passing to one of the people above will then pass to the tribe where the land is located.

• If you have spouse and other eligible heirs, your surviving souse will inherit 1/3 of any money in your IIM account at the time of your death, and all of the money produced from your itnerest in trust or restricted land during your spouse’s lifetime. Your other heirs get the remaining 2/3 of any money in your IIM account at the time of death, and the remaining ownership interests in the trust or restricted land. Your spouse may also continue to live in a family home located on allotted land.

• If your spouse but no other eligible heirs survive you, the spouse gets your IIM account, and during the spouse’s lifetime, the money produced from your land interest. The spouse may also continue to live in a family home located on allotted land. The remaining ownership interest in land goes to the tribe where the land is located.

• If you do not write a will and your ownership interest is less than 5% of the total, your spouse may continue to live in the family home on the parcel and then the new probate law will limit inheritance to the oldest eligible child, and then oldest eligible grandchild or oldest eligible great-grandchild.

Additionally, the Department of the Interior may purchase interests in land that are less than 5% of the total, for fair market value during the probate proceeding without the consent of the heirs. However, this authority to purchase small interests without the heirs’ consent DOES NOT APPLY IF THE INTEREST IS PASSING THROUGH A VALID WILL, or if the heirs were living on the land. Spouses living on a parcel also are protected.

With a will?

• By writing a will, your land can be transferred in trust to any Indian person, the tribe that has jurisdiction, or any Indian person, the tribe that has jurisdiction, or any Indian co-owners. You can also transfer your land in trust to any of your descendants (children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren) even if they are not Indian. You can control how your trust property is passed by creating an estate plan, such as a will or deed. You can transfer your interests out of trust to anybody.

• Even if your spouse is not mentioned in a will, your spouse may inherit some of your trust property.

Who May Inherit Land in Trust under AIPRA?

There is an amended definition of Indian that helps determine who can inherit an interest in land in trust, particularly where there is no will. Under AIPRA, an "Indian" is a person who:

• Is a member of an Indian tribe, or
• Is eligible to become a member of an Indian tribe; or
• Was an owner of an interest in trust or restricted land on October 27,2 004; or
• Meets the definition of "Indian" under the Indian Reorganization Act, or
• In California, any person as in 1, 2, 3, and 4, or who owns trust or restricted land in California.

This will not affect your eligibility for other federal Indian programs.

Your heirs who are not Indian may be able to inherit in trust if they meet the statutory requirements for "eligible ehirs." If you have heirs who are non-Indian, be sure to seek information at the toll-free number below or at your local agency office.

The provisions of AIPRA are complex. Be sure to seek information for any questions you may have.

Section 2: Consolidating Ownership Interests

One of the main purposes of the Act is to preserve the trust status and reduce the number of small, fractionated interests in Indian lands. The Act does this by providing individuals and tribes with more opportunities to consolidate fractionated interests and by removing some restrictions on what tribes and individuals can do with their lands.

What is the purchase option at probate?

Certain people can purchase your interests in the parcel during probate. Your heirs, other co-owners, and the tribe where the land is located will be able to purchase your interest in the parcel. The purchase price must equal or exceed the fair market value. Your heirs would receive the money paid for your interest in the parcel instead of a share of your interests in the parcel. If your heirs are to receive 5% interest or more in the parcel, or if they live on the parcel, your heirs’ consent to the purchase is required.

What are consolidation agreements?

Heirs can decide how they want the trust estate distributed at the probate hearing. For example, they may decide whether they wish to inherit their share, or sell it to other co-owners or the tribe where the land is located. Heirs may also give their share to another named Indian person instead of inherited it.

How can a person acquire other fractionated interests?

The Act contains a number of provisions that are important to Indian landowners. Some examples are:

• Land consolidation options for landowners,
• Partition by sale of Indian lands,
• Continuation and expansion of the federal "buy back" program, and
• Greater flexibility for landowners to consolidate and acquire interests during the probate process.


The Land Department's priority is to increase the Reservation trust land base, through land acquisition by purchase or exchange.

Acquisition and Disposal Services Provided: Fee to Trust: The Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and the Leech Lake Band are eligible to place land in trust following 25 CFR 151, within the Reservation boundaries. All Fee land acquisitions by purchase or exchange in the name of the Leech Lake Band must go through the Land Department. The following steps must be followed:

1. All land sale requests/offers to the Leech Lake Band shall be made in writing.
2. The following information must be provided with all offers:

  • A complete legal description and acreage.
  • List owner(s) who will be on the deed by name, marital status (single, widow, husband, etc. - if the seller is married, their spouse must also sign the deed).
  • List the amount you are asking for the property, and the amount that it is assessed for on the county tax rolls.
  • Is the land in any land bank, tree growth program or any other program which might require the program or county be reimbursed for any monies which has benefitted the land owner?
  • Is there are well (abandoned or in use) on the property?
  • Are there any mortgages, liens, judgements or Contracts for Deed on the property? (If so, they must be cleared up before the Band would purchase - or seller must authorize that funds be held out of the sale proceeds at closing).
  • Give description of all improvements on the land, including the size of buildings, number and type of rooms, finished or unfinished, etc.

3. If the LLTC agrees to purchase the land/real estate, the seller must proivde the following:

  • All property taxes must be paid up to date (attach receipt).
  • Provide an updated Abstract of Title and a copy of your deed, C/D, mortgage papers, etc.
  • If any probates, Certificate of Survivorship, Satisfactions of Mortgage, Judgements, etc. - it is the seller's responsibility to provide these documents along with the filing fees for each document.

Contact Us

[email protected]
(218) 335-7400 DRM

Name Title Phone
Joseph Fowler Environmental Lands Director 335-7414
Dave Bismarck

Land Survey Technician


Jacque Brockman

Land GIS Technician


James “Matt” Frazer

Land GIS Specialist


Marti French Environmental Land Department Asst 335-7401
Della Kingbird Trust Estates Planning Coordinator 335-7409

LuAnn Robinson

Land Use Administrator


Diane Thompson

Realty Specialist (Lakeshore)