Indian self-determination is the cornerstone of the federal relationship with sovereign tribal governments. The Tribe, in establishing a Land Title & Records Office, enables its members on trust land to own their own homes. The Tribal Land Title & Records Office provides an accurate and perpetual means of recording, tracking, and maintaining all Tribal residential/commercial trust leasehold records, mortgages, and other documents relating to the use, encumbrance, and disposition of all trust land to the members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan.
Homeownership constitutes one of the most important sources of wealth in America. A system of land records that assures accurate title of ownership is an essential foundation of our legal system. State law provides that each county has a register of deeds. This system provides accurate information that is crucial to the proper functioning of an economy based largely on private ownership. Federal law provides for a federal land records system for trust and restricted lands. One of the unique challenges to the development of housing in Indian country is the lack of property access to tribal trust and restricted lands.
The 1871 25 U.S.C. Section 81 is a federal law intended to protect tribal lands by preventing tribes from entering into contracts with attorneys who might pursue land claims. It originally provided that any agreement related to Indian lands was invalid without federal approval. Now, following its amendment in 2000, the regulation has been extended to make federal approval necessary for basic leasehold mortgages, easements, and other contracts or agreements that give a third party exclusive or nearly exclusive proprietary control over tribal land.
In an era when tribal self-determination is not only the principal goal of tribes, but also the official policy of the federal government, the continued necessity for federal oversight and approval of virtually all transactions related to trust and restricted lands is unclear. This federal authority over housing-related processes not only contradicts the principle of self-determination, but also poses significant practical impediments to home ownership. In Indian country, delays in approval of leases, mortgages, and recording are common. The combination of unique legal hurdles and bureaucratic delays deter lenders from making loans in Indian country. Reform of the legal impediments to home ownership in Indian country requires federal legislation, and will doubtless take years to accomplish. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, in establishing the Land Title & Records Office, has taken control of their trust land records, propelling forward the opportunity for faster mortgage transactions and greater homeownership opportunities for its membership.
The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribes Land Title & Records Office was established in 2000 pursuant to requirements specifically stated in Tribal Code and contained in Tribal Resolutions. It provides a service solely to the members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, at no cost to the membership. The office is responsible for maintaining and recording residential and commercial records on 2,300 acres of tribal trust lands. The purpose of the Tribal Land Title & Records Office's recording is to provide evidence of a transaction, event, or happening that affects land titles; to preserve a record of the title document; and to give constructive notice of the owners and the existence of encumbrances to the land.
In the interest of self-governance, the Tribe recognized the lack of availability of mortgage financing to members who desired to construct, purchase, or improve existing homes on trust land. The establishment of the Tribe Land and Title Records Office has offered homeownership opportunities to the members. Today, the Tribe has three banks offering 30-year mortgages, saleable to Fannie Mae, at market interest rate. The Housing staff has been instrumental in providing credit counseling services as well as assisting 2000 tribal member families to obtain mortgages on trust land property in the amount of $18,029,226. The land base and natural resources of Indian nations continue to be critical factors in the preservation of tribal existence. Through control over tribal lands and resources Indian tribes can regain economic self-sufficiency necessary for Indian self determination.