Kristen Carpenter & Angela Riley: “Privatizing the Reservation?”

Kristen A. Carpenter and Angela R. Riley have posted their fascinating article, “Privatizing the Reservation?“, on SSRN. The article is forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review. Here is the abstract:

The problems of American Indian poverty and reservation living conditions have inspired various explanations. One account advanced by certain economists and commentators is now animating the Trump administration’s apparent desire to ‘privatize’ Indian lands, namely that reservation poverty is rooted in the federal Indian trust arrangement, which preserves the tribal land base by limiting the marketability of lands within reservations. Policy makers are advocating for measures that would promote the individuation and alienability of tribal lands, while diminishing federal and tribal oversight, toward wealth maximization. Taking a different view, this Article complicates and challenges the narrative of Indian poverty and land tenure advanced by advocates for privatization. We focus on real estate and housing in Indian Country to make three points. First, we argue the salience of American Indian homelands as places of collective religious significance, socio-economic sustenance, and territorial governance has been lost in the privatization debate, which also largely disregards issues of remedial justice associated with conquest and colonization. Second, we introduce to the legal literature new empirical data and economic analysis demonstrating that the current system of land tenure in Indian Country is much more varied, and recent innovations in federal-tribal housing and finance programs are more promising, than some of the calls for privatization would suggest. Finally, using specific examples from Indian Country, we highlight a model of indigenous self-determination and sustainability, rooted in the international human rights movement, that deserves attention in ongoing domestic policy debates with the potential to advance the well-being of humanity more broadly.