Since the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Dawes Act of 1887, property in Oklahoma owned by individual Native Americans and Tribes has been of paramount importance in shaping our state’s territorial land boundaries. With over a hundred years having passed, and the prominent rise in acquisition, development, and drilling in Oklahoma, minerals owned by Native Americans are still at the forefront of discussion when included in a drilling and spacing unit or mineral acquisition. But, with the administrative complexities of the federal trust doctrine, both landmen and companies alike are oftentimes left scratching their head when an Indian mineral due diligence or curative matter arises.
Although a more in-depth analysis will be given to specific Oklahoma Indian Mineral Acts and curative measures in future issues, this article will detail a few key tools, documents, and curative matters that will assist field landmen, in-house landmen, and practicing attorneys when they encounter Oklahoma property or minerals owned by either a individual with restricted Indian status or a Tribe.
Land Title Record Offices (LTRO):
The Indian Land Record of Title is the official record of title documents and instruments affecting Indian land that require approval by the Secretary or other Federal officials. The Division of Land Titles and Records (DLTR), and its eleven LTROs, are the official Federal offices-of-record for all documents affecting title to Indian lands, and for the determination, maintenance, and certified reporting of land title ownership and encumbrance on Indian trust and restricted lands. All title documents affecting Indian land are to be recorded in the Indian Land Record of Title. The DLTR-LTRO is the office responsible for maintaining the Indian Land Record of Title and for examining and determining the completeness and accuracy of the records, certifying the findings of examination and reporting the status of title to Indian trust and restricted lands.
LTRO Land Status Mapping:
Pursuant to federal authority, the LTROs are responsible for preparing and maintaining maps of all reservations, tribes, and similar entities within their jurisdiction. Base maps are prepared from plats of an official survey made by the General Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management. These base maps illustrate geophysical features such as rivers, lakes, and boundaries. Section, township, and range lines are used to digitally prepare land status maps. Land status maps reflect individual tracts of Tribal mineral ownership by ascribed tract numbers, as well as the current ownership status of the tracts.
Title Status Report (TSR):
These carefully built reports are used by Tribes to show detailed property, mineral, and asset ownership. The TSR should accurately reflect the ownership of the title interest and the restricted land owner(s). The TSR is a crucial tool for mineral leasing or financing of homes on Indian trust lands. In addition to a TSR, you may also request a Tract History Report (THR) detailing the history of land transactions for the requested tract. Due to the complexity of title determination, a TSR or THR request may take as little as a few hours to as long as a few days, but is well worth the wait to verify ownership reports and assist in title examination.
Fitzpatrick’s Indian Title Charts:
Oftentimes, the biggest issue regarding Indian title is “was the conveyance proper and valid under the laws at the time of the conveyance? The University of Oklahoma College of Law Library contains detailed historical Indian conveyancing charts, which reflect what Acts Of Congress allowed certain Indian tribes to convey their surface or mineral interests throughout history. The Fitzpatrick Indian Title Charts developed by Kirby Fitzpatrick and reprinted by Joseph R. Rarick, gives the law of alienation for the Five Civilized Tribes and the General Allotment Indians. Because the alienation of allotted lands had so many restrictions, the charts are useful to evaluate the validity of a conveyance at the time when it was made. The charts detail whether surplus or homestead property may be sold by the Indian in regards to their quantum of blood, and are very useful for a title examiner when rendering an opinion. Such charts, and other treatises, may be found at https://thorpe.ou.edu/treatises/fitzpatrick/fitzchart.html.
In addition to the above-mentioned agencies and materials that are useful when encountering Indian minerals, an abundance of material is available to assist the energy professional. When encountering a title cloud or issue with Indian minerals, be sure to seek out advice of the respective agency tasked with the charge of the mineral ownership in your particular project or an experienced attorney. If there are any other topics/issues you would like to discuss with myself or the energy community, please mention your ideas and thoughts in the comment section.
Jordan D. Volino is an attorney at Hampton and Milligan practicing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who specializes in mineral title examination, oil and gas law, property law, as well as federal and Indian title and leasing. Jordan is a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and the Oklahoma City Association of Professional Landmen. Jordan also is a published scholar, national champion in energy negotiations, and frequently lectures over Oklahoma oil and gas matters.