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Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 01:58 GMT
Native Americans regain land

The US wanted to use any oil deposits to fuel its battleships


By Washington Correspondent Richard Lister

The United States Government has promised to return more than 3,000 sq km of desert land to a Native American tribe in what will be the largest transfer of its kind in more than 100 years.

The land, in the Western state of Utah, was requisitioned during World War I for its potentially valuable oil deposits - although it was never used.

The government had promised in 1882 that native people in Utah would own the area for all time.

The current deal, under which the Department of Energy has agreed to return the land to the Ute tribe, has yet to be approved by Congress.

It is a complex agreement and requires the Utes to give up some of the sovereignty that an indian tribe would normally have over reservation territory.

Some of the land will be designated as a wilderness area which cannot be developed.

In addition, if the tribe does choose to exploit the oil resources, it will have to turn over part of the profits to the government to help pay for the cleanup of an abandoned uranium mine, about 130km from their reservation.

Most of the $300m-cost of that project, though, is expected to be born by the government.

The Ute tribe has welcomed the return of the land. Indian leaders say it represents an important step in the right direction in the long and often shameful history of the US Government's treatment of Native American peoples.

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See also:
07 Jul 99 |  Americas
Clinton highlights Indian plight
04 Dec 98 |  UK
Sioux set to reclaim ghost shirt
07 Jan 00 |  States
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