The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of June 18, 1934, also known as the Wheeler-Howard Act, was a federal legislation that sought to reverse the traditional goal of assimilating Native Americans into American society. Instead, it aimed to strengthen, encourage, and perpetuate Native American tribes and their historic cultures in the United States. The law was passed with the full support of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior, Harold L. Ickes.
It provided self-government provisions for tribes, unless a clear majority of eligible Indians voted against it. Once approved, a tribe would adopt a variant of the model constitution drafted by BIA lawyers. Prior to the allocation, reservation territory was not owned in the usual European-American sense, but was reserved for the benefit of entire indigenous tribes. Communal benefits were distributed among members of the tribe in accordance with tribal laws and customs.
Non-indigenous people were not allowed to own land in the reserves, limiting the dollar value of the land, as there was a smaller market capable of buying it. The Indigenous Claims Act of 1946 included the requirement that the Department of the Interior manage India's forest resources according to the principle of sustainable yield management. This law slowed down the practice of assigning communal tribal land to individual tribal members, but did not return land that had already been patented to individuals to the Indians. The law also allowed the U.
S. to buy some of the land for payment and return it to tribal trust status. Due to this Act and other actions of the federal courts and government, more than two million acres (8,000 km²) of land were returned to several tribes in the first 20 years after its approval. Since then, many state or local governments have opposed this Act on constitutional grounds.
In 1995, South Dakota challenged the authority of the Secretary of the Interior under this Act to confiscate 91 acres (370,000 m) of land on behalf of the Lower Brule Sioux tribe. The U. Supreme Court granted the Interior's request and overturned the lower court's ruling. In a challenge to the U.
Department of Interior's decision to convert land into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation in present-day New York, Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE), New York, Oneida County, Madison County, City of Verona and City of Vernon argued that this Act is unconstitutional. Judge Kahn dismissed UCE's lawsuit on established and long-standing law on this issue and U. Court of Appeals for Second Circuit upheld dismissal. The policy of allocation to American Indian reservations was implemented through many legislative instruments such as General Allocation Act of 1887 and its amendments which gave Secretary of Interior authority to reimburse Indian landowners.