No Sticks in My Bundle: Rethinking the Indian Land Tenure Problem

69 Pages Posted: 1 May 2014 Last revised: 3 Apr 2015

See all articles by Jessica A. Shoemaker

Jessica A. Shoemaker

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - College of Law

Date Written: April 29, 2014


This article analyzes the modern rule that individual Indian co-owners of allotted land retain no direct rights to use and possess their own property without a lease or other prior permission from their co-owners. This special Indian no-use and no-possession rule is of a relatively recent vintage, and it is contrary to the rights of co-owners in nearly every non-Indian jurisdiction. This rule is also ahistorical and contrary to current federal policy to promote Indian use of Indian land. While other scholarship on Indian land tenure has focused on the practical challenges of coordinating among so many co-owners in Indian lands’ fractionated state and on the limits imposed by the federal trust status’s alienation restraints on these lands, this article argues that the lack of legal possession and use rights for Indian co-owners is a third and previously overlooked factor in the problem of Indian self-determination. This article ultimately concludes that the federal co-ownership rules for individual Indian lands are poorly designed and are exacerbating other land tenure and social and economic problems in Indian Country. This article ultimately proposes tribally driven solutions to create a more rational and culturally congruent property system for indigenous people.

Keywords: American Indian land tenure, property, fractionation, possession, use, co-ownership, tenancy in common, indigenous land, federal Indian law, tribal law

Suggested Citation

Shoemaker, Jessica A., No Sticks in My Bundle: Rethinking the Indian Land Tenure Problem (April 29, 2014). University of Kansas Law Review, Vol. 63, No. 2, January 2015, pp. 383-450, Available at SSRN:

Jessica A. Shoemaker (Contact Author)

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - College of Law ( email )

103 McCollum Hall
P.O. Box 830902
Lincoln, NE 68583-0902
United States


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