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Researchers from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development published a policy brief on Oct. 20 detailing how geographic information system (GIS) techniques can be used in landback efforts across Indian Country.

The report notes that six federal agencies currently manage approximately one-third of the land surrounding reservations that formerly belonged to Native nations.

Using geographic information systems helped the authors identify public and/or protected lands in relation to current and historic reservation boundaries. Between 1889 and 1890, Congress ceded about 13 million acres of reservation land to settlers through the General Allotment Act which authorized the president to break up reservation land.

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GIS can show the scope of landback opportunities, including lands that are: owned by the federal or state governments; federal-or state-managed within current external reservation boundaries; existing within former reservation boundaries; near or bordering current reservation land; or protected areas designated for conservation management. 

“Identifying where these parcels are is a powerful first step for tribes and government agencies to begin to develop strategies for landback,” wrote authors Miriam Jorgensen, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development (Harvard Project) research director, and Laura Taylor, Harvard Project research fellow.

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