Social Challenges

Many tribes still have deep, conflicted feelings about land ownership and the creation of parcels for Indian Country. One statement commonly heard is, “How can you sell your mother?” In some native cultures the idea of carving up the landscape into parcels is very distasteful. This is not the case everywhere; however it is an issue that runs very deep.

Juxtaposition of Tribes and BIA

Lastly, the juxtaposition of tribes and the BIA when it comes to trust parcel mapping is a very interesting issue. On many reservations across the United States, the BIA plays a very minor role in mapping trust land in the local office. Many tribes have contracted the BIA roles on reservations (e.g., forestry, transportation, and land services) via Public Law 93-638 (Tribal Technical Assistance Program, 1994, pp. 1, 7). This has given the tribes better control of these types of programs on the reservations and has typically included some sort of GIS role occurring at a tribal level. On other reservations, parcel mapping services come from the BIA due to lack of local funding, skills, or interest. Tribal programs need up-to-date parcel information for management decisions, planning, development, and emergency response. This often includes mapping non-Indian lands on the reservation. As tribes have become more self-supporting and proactive in management, they have acquired finances to fund parcel data collection. Unfortunately, the BIA has a very low level of on-the-ground involvement on many reservations; hence there is no institutional need for the BIA to create up-to-date parcel data. The problem then becomes that the BIA is the “official source” of trust parcel mapping. However the data the BIA maintains are most likely not kept up to the standard needed and used by most tribes.


In this chapter the committee has outlined the technical, data, financial, legal, organizational, and political challenges that would inhibit the creation of a nationwide program for parcel data. Although there seem to be numerous technical, data, and financial challenges, there are also numerous examples where these types of challenges have been overcome or resolved in particular communities or in other countries. Therefore, the committee believes that these types of issues are minor compared to the legal, organizational, and political ones. With more than 3,000 counties, tribes, and other local government entities as potential producers of parcel data, the organizational issues are complex. Also, other countries have created national land parcel data, which shows that it is feasible to do so. The next two chapters describe the committee’s vision for a national land parcel data system in the United States, and what needs to be done to overcome the challenges described in this chapter to achieve that vision.

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