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Biden signs bill removing real estate restrictions for tribe

Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. testifies virtually before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Sept. 23, 2020. (U.S. Senate)

Since 1790, Native Americans have been required to obtain federal approval for the purchase or lease of land not held in trust, due to the Indian Non-Intercourse Act (NIA). With a stroke of his pen Nov. 23, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that halted the 231-year old requirement for the Seminole Tribe. The law now allows the tribe to lease, sell, convey, warrant or transfer its real property that is not held in trust by the United States.

The bill, known as S.108 in the Senate, was sponsored by Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and U.S. Representative Darren Soto. It was passed in the Senate on May 26 and in the House of Representatives on Nov. 1.

“The bill is necessary in order to create additional economic opportunities for the Seminole Tribe of Florida and its members,” Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. said in a statement after the bill’s passage in the Senate.

The law gives the tribe greater ability to invest in commercial property now that the federal restrictions have been removed.

“Removing this paternalist, decades old restriction on the Seminole Tribe is long overdue,” Sen. Rubio said in a statement.

On Sept. 23, 2020, Chairman Osceola testified virtually before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to request an exemption to the NIA. He also gave a brief history of the tribe including its culture and ownership of Hard Rock International.

“The reason for this bill is we have created a real estate fund to diversify our money for the tribe and its future,” Chairman Osceola said to then-Committee Chairman Sen. John Hoeven.

The tribe has established an investment fund to invest in commercial real estate properties and create generational
wealth for tribal members. At the time of the Chairman’s testimony, it was unable to move forward due to concerns by a lender and title insurance company about the NIA. The NIA’s intent was to prevent Indian tribes from being defrauded, but instead it became an obstacle.

“Today it is hampering efforts to diversify for tribes that are imminently capable of making our own business decisions,” Chairman Osceola said in the 2020 testimony.

Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola testified in support of the bill before the House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples on Sept. 24, 2020. During the meeting, Rep. Soto stressed that the committee has a role to “right many wrongs over history.”

“It’s about justice,” Rep. Soto said. “We know there have been original sins in this country that we have to atone for and there are a lot of reforms that still need to pass. It’s disturbing that it takes an act of Congress for the Seminole Tribe to be able do their daily business that any other group in Florida would be able to do.”

Soto explained the bill will send a message to lenders and title insurers that NIA doesn’t apply to land the tribe wants to purchase. Councilman Osceola said in the 2020 testimony that he believes if the tribe had the exemption, it wouldn’t have any problems when it tried to acquire lands.

“This is a problem for us and for all of Indian Country,” he said in the testimony. “I want to urge you to really consider this. The decision you make today will set precedent for tribes in the future and help not only our tribe, but all tribes to diversify. We can’t always depend on casinos; things change.”

Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola testifies virtually before the U.S. Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples on Sept. 24, 2020. (U.S. House)
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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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