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Tribal laws and regulations

According to the 2011 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census, there were 5.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives living in the United States, accounting for approximately 1.6% of the population.

The federal government formally recognizes 566 Indian tribes and 325 Indian reservations that cover 56 million acres of land. This land is held in trust by DOI and has significant natural resource extraction potential, containing up to 30% of U.S. coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50% of potential uranium reserves, and 20% of known oil and gas reserves. Extracting natural resources on Indian land and distributing the associated revenue involves a unique set of processes and stakeholders.

Federal obligations

The basis of the regulatory relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government was established in the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3). This relationship, as it pertains to land use and ownership, was clarified in the 1830s. In a series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Marshall Trilogy, former Supreme Court Justice John Marshall established several important principles of Indian law.

One was the federal Indian trust responsibility, whereby the government charged itself with “moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes. In this capacity, the U.S. Government maintains fiduciary responsibility to protect tribal assets and resources and serves as a trustee for Indian lands. Another was the principle that tribes are sovereign, which is inherent to them as the original governing bodies of what is now the United States, and that sovereignty can only be diminished by Congress.

Leasing process

Today, there are two major types of Indian-owned land:

  • Trust land, in which the federal government holds legal title, but the beneficial interest remains with individual or tribe. Trust lands held on behalf of individuals are known as allotments.
  • Fee land purchased by tribes, in which the tribe acquires legal title under specific statutory authority

These lands yield natural resources through a process governed primarily by the tribes themselves and four agencies within DOI. When a tribe initiates the leasing process, BIA or the tribe itself negotiates the lease sale, sets royalty rates and rental amounts, and issues the lease. If the tribe negotiates the lease, the BIA will approve the final negotiated deal. For an allotment owned by an individual, the BIA holds a bidding process to ensure the best return for the allottee. Once a contract is signed, BLM inspects the lease and helps prepare production and mining plans.

ONRR collects royalties from extractive companies and reviews monthly revenue and production reports to ensure accuracy. ONRR also performs lease audits to ensure royalties are correctly paid.

The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) receives the payments and information from ONRR and disburses 100% of the funds to the owner of the land (PDF), whether that is an individual or a tribe.

Production on Indian land

Natural resources are increasingly a key source of income for many American Indian tribes. In FY 2016, ONRR and OST disbursed $560.4 million to American Indian tribes and allottees. This is accounting year data.

Commodity FY 2013 FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016
Oil (bbl) 49,244,502 60,173,618 64,145,576 58,570,842
Gas (mcf) 313,218,037 324,457,237 316,547,513 317,746,651
Cinders (ton) 7,021 4,926 7,835 2,992
Coal (ton) 17,710,995 20,270,190 19,675,009 13,925,942
Coal-Bituminous-Raw (ton) 6,034 935 - -
Copper Concentrate (ton) 3,177 - 8,476 159
Gypsum (ton) 328,196 310,828 229,131 385,257
Humate (ton) - - - 14,202
Molybdenum Concentrate (ton) 0 - 11 13
Sand/Gravel (ton) 2,605,479 1,410,816 622,816 2,042,576
Sand/Gravel (cyd) 7,260 7,860 5,688 5,184
Geothermal (kwh) 1,695,636 1,784,470 1,502,682 1,508,963

Revenue from natural resources on Indian land

Much like federal revenue, revenue from natural resource extraction on tribal land is collected in each phase of the production process (for instance, companies pay bonuses to secure rights, rents during exploration, and royalties once production begins).

In the tables below, revenue may be grouped differently depending on the stage of production; see documentation about the federal revenue dataset for more detailed explanations.

Revenue from natural resources on Indian land (FY 2016)

Commodity Bonus Rents Royalties Other Revenue
Oil (bbl) - - $379,273,890.75 -
Gas (mcf) - - $96,933,336.93 -
Coal (ton) - - $58,492,018.87 -
Coal $5,500,000 $210,556.94 - $5,312,783.22
Oil & Gas - $4,061,269.2 - ($3,090,321.38)
Other Products - - $2,642,549.91 -
Copper - $8,168.74 - $2,059,034.36
Sand & Gravel - $547,328.4 - $837,077.3
Gypsum - $1,040 - $47,694.47
Mining-Unspecified - $1,281.52 - -
Phosphate - $200 - $1,200
Hardrock - - - $0
NGL (gal) - - ($682,964.66) -

Revenue from natural resources on Indian land (FY 2015)

Commodity Bonus Rents Royalties Other Revenue
Oil (bbl) - - $601,836,549.94 -
Gas (mcf) - - $135,002,710.26 -
Coal (ton) - - $74,385,900.34 -
NGL (gal) - - $14,974,922.8 -
Oil & Gas - $4,063,263.81 - ($14,332,205.66)
Other Products - - $3,653,579.38 -
Copper - $8,168.74 - $1,200,000
Sand & Gravel - $528.4 - $504,584.25
Coal $200,000 $61,149.42 - ($9,591,654.26)
Hardrock - - - $50,000
Phosphate - $200 - $1,200
Gypsum - $1,040 - ($10,622.07)
Mining-Unspecified - $0 - -

Revenue from natural resources on Indian land (FY 2014)

Commodity Bonus Rents Royalties Other Revenue
Oil (bbl) - - $843,652,079.84 -
Gas (mcf) - - $163,372,980.78 -
Coal (ton) - - $69,954,977.22 -
Coal $19,050,000 $151,501.42 - $8,516,311.92
NGL (gal) - - $18,002,610.71 -
Oil & Gas - $4,018,127.84 - $8,428,763.36
Other Products - - $1,993,485.79 -
Copper - $4,180 - $1,200,000
Sand & Gravel - $26,328.4 - $278,957.7
Gypsum - $1,960 - $3,259.58
Phosphate - $200 - $1,200
Hardrock - - - $0
Mining-Unspecified - $0 - -

Revenue from natural resources on Indian land (FY 2013)

Commodity Bonus Rents Royalties Other Revenue
Oil (bbl) - - $684,766,073.25 -
Gas (mcf) - - $130,635,347.94 -
Coal (ton) - - $78,219,384.97 -
Oil & Gas - $2,652,683.99 - $24,238,464.09
Coal $10,611,353 $106,735.7 - $21,965,250.38
NGL (gal) - - $12,634,562.58 -
Other Products - - $3,009,419.98 -
Copper - $6,174.37 - $1,481,367.48
Sand & Gravel - $51,056.8 - $556,250.4
Gypsum - $1,055 - $20,651.9
Phosphate - $200 - $1,200
Hardrock - - - $0
Mining-Unspecified - $0 - -

The federal government may only release information about natural resource extraction and revenue in aggregate across all Indian lands. This is because of confidentiality and proprietary constraints on tribal data. These constraints arise from treaties, laws, and regulations that the government consistently and uniformly applies.