The following information is based on state and federal laws with an intent to inform the reader. You are encouraged to seek legal counsel concerning issues with land ownership.
I found an allotment deed; where's my land?
Cherokee Indians residing in Indian Territory (which eventually became Oklahoma) and who were enrolled on the Dawes Commission rolls were granted land or money in return for that enrollment. Not all Cherokee participated; many opposed the process and evaded the government officials conducting the census. The United States government allotment process was intended to eradicate the method of ownership of Cherokee Nation lands by converting the ownership to individual rather than traditional tribal or communal ownership, ultimately enabling non-Indian ownership of those tribal lands.
The Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, under authority of the Act of Congress approved July 1, 1902 (32 Stat., 716) utilized the Dawes Rolls of the Cherokee Nation, established by the Commission to the Five Civilized Tribes, to provide each citizen of the tribe identified on the Dawes Rolls with land equal in value to one hundred and ten acres of the average allottable land of the Cherokee Nation. The allotment deed and the homestead deed were signed by the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and approved by the Department of the Interior.
The land varied in acreage and in location. Sometimes a allottee received land in up to four different counties, but most commonly in at least in two. It is possible that your ancestor's land could still be in the name of the original allottee. The land could have been sold by the original allottee, just as each of us may buy or sell land today. The land may have been lost to adverse possession as provided by state law. Cherokee Nation Real Estate Services maintains title documents for only the restricted lands allotted. If your ancestors were of less than one-half Cherokee blood, those land records will require research in the county wherein the land is located.
Can I claim land still in my ancestor's name?
The ancestor's estate must be probated so all the heirs and their survivors can be determined. The probate will disburse according to the determination of the probate proceeding. The heirs, as determined, will share in the assets remaining of the original allottee.
Can Real Estate Services help me find my land?
Cherokee Nation Real Estate Services has an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to handle its realty function in Cherokee Nation's jurisdiction. Thus, the records for most allottees who were one-half or more Cherokee Indian are located in the offices of Real Estate Services at Cherokee Nation's tribal complex in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. These allottees generally received property in non-taxable, restricted status. If your family member was at least one-half Cherokee, the Real Estate department can verify if the property is still owned by the original allottee or a descendent and whether it is still restricted.
I found my ancestor's land in another person's name. Why?
The original allottee was just as likely to sell the property as any landowner today buys and sells property. Additionally, if the original allottee failed to pay taxes (if the property was taxable) he or she may have lost the land due to those unpaid taxes. The land may have been taken through the process of adverse possession, as provided for by state and federal law against fee lands and restricted lands in the Five Civilized Tribes jurisdictions.
Can I reclaim the lost lands?
Federal law allowed restricted land to become subject to the statutes of limitations of the State of Oklahoma, which means:
1. If the original allottee or subsequent owners sold the land under the provisions of the law, the land is not available to reclaim.
2. If the original allottee or subsequent owners failed to pay ad valorem taxes where due, the County would have sold the land for taxes and the County Sheriff would have granted a Sheriff's Deed to the purchaser. The land is not available to reclaim.
3. If the original allottee or subsequent owners lost the land under state law adverse possession provisions and the case was properly performed, the land is not available to reclaim.
How can I protect my family's restricted land against adverse possession?
You should identify the location of the property, have family members visit the property, take pictures of the property while making notes of the dates and details of the visit. Provide this site visit information along with the photos to the Cherokee Nation Real Estate Services as verification of ownership interest. Notify Real Estate Services of signs of trespass if any are found. Verify by checking with the County Assessor, County Treasurer and County Clerk that the property has no activity by someone to be adverse to the restricted owner's interest. Real Estate Services can lease the land through a Bureau of Indian Affairs- approved lease to affirm the land is recognized as restricted Indian land.
My relative died; who gets the house?
If your relative owned the land, the house will be transferred according to the last Will and Testament of that relative. If there was not a will, the house will be part of the estate of the relative and thus will require a probate to transfer ownership. If your relative did not own the land, the owner of the land will determine ownership. If the owner is now deceased with no will, a probate will be necessary to transfer ownership to the heirs.
My father is the only living heir; how do I get the property in his name?
Land left to your father (mother, etc.) by a deceased person will become entirely your father's if it was willed to him by the deceased and a probate is completed. Otherwise, land of an ancestor that was not the subject of a last Will and Testament will be disbursed according to the Laws of Descent and Distribution. This means that even though your father's siblings were all deceased, the interest of each sibling will transfer to their heirs according to state law or their individual Last Will and Testament. Death of an heir will not cause descendants of the heir to be disinherited.
Can I build a house on restricted land still in my ancestor's name?
Yes, however; if you do this you should realize the house will not belong to you individually. The house will belong to the estate of the ancestor until a probate is completed. The probate could result in you owning none of the home; a portion of the home or all of the home.
Where's my money?
This question is usually the result of someone finding in the papers of a deceased relative a reference to a payment from the government. At the time of the original allotment, some individuals elected to take money instead of land. This choice required documentation supporting the subsequent payment as elected. Those payments were made during the same time frame as the land was being allotted. There was also another payment made in the 1960's as a per capita. These payments were made en masse
at that time. There is a list of "Whereabouts Unknown" names available in the Office of the Special Trustee that you may check to determine the possible existence of funds held for you or your relatives or ancestors.
Where's my per capita from the casinos?
Today there are more than 360,000 Cherokee Nation citizens and as a citizen it's possible that you may receive tribal services paid for by federal funds, federal grants or Cherokee Nation-generated dollars. While there are a few Native American tribes across the United States that have chosen to disburse gaming revenue directly to their citizens, Cherokee Nation has chosen instead to invest our gaming revenue to help educate, employ and assist Cherokee Nation citizens. Some of this assistance is available through a multitude of avenues including Health, Housing, Community Services, Career Services, Land Services and the Roads Program.