Repatriation of Land to Tribes

My second novel, The Inheritance, deals with repatriation of land that was stolen from Indigenous peoples. The novel traces my own experience of uncovering the history of an inheritance, finding that it originated in my great-grandparents homesteading land from which the Utes had been expelled. My great-grandparents sold the homestead and bought land in Steamboat Springs, then later sold that land. What I inherited wasn’t the land itself, but rather investments made from acquiring and selling it. So when I made the decision to repatriate what had been stolen, While I couldn’t return the land itself, in September 2017, I returned my share the monetary value that had accrued.

I am starting to keep track of other white people who have repatriated land to tribes. Below are those I know of. Please contact me if you know of others; I’m adding them as I learn of them.

In 2015, California landowner Bill Richardson transferred 700 acres of his family ranch in Sonoma County to the Pomo Kaisha Tribe, on whose ancestral land the ranch was located. The ranch had been in the Richardson family since 1925. Richardson worked with fund raisers, including the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, to raise funds to buy the land at a generously discounted price. While Richardson will continue to live on the land, the Pomo gained immediate access to it for their own use and management.

In 2016, Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois (son of the artist Louise Bourgeois) began the process of transferring the deed of his $4 million, landmarked house in Manhattan to a nonprofit controlled by the Lenape tribe, on whose ancestral land Manhattan was built. Bourgeois said, “This building is the trophy from major theft. It disgusts me.” He feels “rage against what whites have done and some guilt, no, a lot of guilt, that I have profited from this major theft. The right thing to do is to return it.”

In June, 2018, Art and Helen Tanderup of Nebraska signed a deed returning ancestral land along the “Trail of Tears” to the Ponca Tribes of Nebraska and Oklahoma. As reported in the news, “The land gifting ceremony and deed signing between farmers Art and Helen Tanderup, Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright, Jr., and Ponca Nation of Oklahoma Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek took place on Sunday, June 10th, during an event that also included the 5th annual planting of sacred Ponca corn on the Tanderup farm.” Nearly 200 people gathered near Neligh, Nebraska at the farm to plant and to celebrate the transfer of 1.6 acres of the land. (Coincidentally, on p. 138, The Inheritance recounts the expulsion of the Ponca from their lands in Nebraska).

In October, 2018, Rich Snyder voluntarily signed over the deed of ancestral land in Colorado to the Ute Tribe. After buying the land and spending some time on it, he learned of its history and the expulsion of the Utes in the 1880s, so decided to repatriate the land to the tribe. He explained that the power of the power of the Ute Indian Tribe’s presence on that land had overwhelmed him.

In September, 2018, Jim and Margaret Hogan transferred their deed to 1 1/2 acres in Burlington County, New Jersey to the Brotherton Indian Reservation in Tabernacle Township. The original reservation of 3,000 acres in what are now Tabernacle and Shamong Townships was established in 1758. Fifty years later, New Jersey began selling off pieces of the reservation to private buyers, and most of the Leni-Lenape people who had been living there left. On learning of the transfer of the deed, Joseph Littlefeather, recently elected chief of the Sandhill Lenape Cherokee Tribe, said “I want to thank him [Hogan] for doing this. We want to put a farm stand on the land, and eventually open an office there, so people who live down there don’t have to travel so far.”

In 1991, Arlene and Irving Crandall returned about 350 acres in Rhode Island to the Narragansett tribe. John Crandall b.1612 had been a Baptist elder, very vocal in his beliefs and ideas of fairness. He was summoned and fined by the courts for holding religious meetings, resisting authority, sedition and rebellion. In 1661, he purchased land from the Narragansett tribe. The present-day Crandalls could no longer afford to pay taxes on the land, and were afraid the town would auction it off. “The Indians are the only people we thought gave a damn about the land,” Arlene Crandall said. John Brown, a tribal council member, said, “This whole thing kind of renewed my faith in mankind. It has now come full circle. My people gave this land to the original Crandalls as a gesture of goodwill, and now it has been returned to us in the same spirit.”

I am hopeful that these examples of repatriation of land to tribes will inspire other descendants of the colonizers to do the same. Ideally, repatriation of land would occur through tribal government — federal government collaboration, since it was the federal government that took the land in the first place. But that is unlikely to happen soon. In the meantime, these examples offer varied examples of how families can repatriate land to tribes themselves.


  1. I appreciate your thoughtful and informed website. From my family tree, an example of repatriation: John Crandall b.1612 was a Baptist elder, very vocal in his beliefs and ideas of fairness. He was summoned and fined by the courts for holding religious meetings, resisting authority, sedition and rebellion. In 1661 Crandall purchased land from the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island.

    In 1991, Crandall descendants Arlene and Irving Crandall returned about 350 acres to the Narragansett tribe. The 1991 Crandalls were behind in property taxes and nervous that the marshland, forest and swamp would be auctioned off, developed into concrete, buildings and things. So the Crandall’s returned the land to the local tribe. Story in the LA Times Aug 11 1991by William Cockerham.

  2. What a wonderful story! I added it into my post. Thank you for contacting me!

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