New Program at Haskell Trains Students in Real Estate

Aug 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-2: Spirituality, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

Haskell Indian Nations University has initiated two degree programs in Indian realty—the only programs of their kind in the United States.

Most Indian land is held in trust, and Realtors need training to deal with more than simple land manage­ment. They must be knowledgeable about issues as complex as business leas­es in agriculture, oil or gas; rights-of-way; land surveys and acquisitions; disposal and probates.

This is more than one can learn on-the-job, and students experience what Haskell professor Betty Chavez calls “before-the-job training.” She elabo­rates: “We teach students everyday real estate issues and information about Indian realty problems.”

The opportunity in the field is growing, as well. As Terry Beckwith of the Palm Springs office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs reports, “I was asked to do a study on the number of vacancies on the BIA side of realty. Out of 900 jobs, 20 percent were vacant.”

He estimates it will take years to fill this void at the BIA, and on the reservation. However, Haskell spokesperson Hannes Combest states that the college plans to move cautiously. “We want to make sure it is economically viable [to expand the program] and that it meets the need of Indian nations.”

The demand for this expertise has begun to grow on reservations, according to Chavez, since Indians are now making more decisions about the use of their land without BIA supervision.

This will enable many reservations to jump-start their economy by, for example, encouraging businesses to invest in the communities through incentives such as fast track permitting—which lowers the decreasing, but still high, unemployment, and augments the value of the reservation.

Those tribes that have reached this goal, such as the Oneidas in Green Bay, Wisconsin, tend to have highly qualified real estate people working for them. As Beckwith notes, “With the growing trend to decrease social programs, the need to attract businesses is more important.”

However, Indian realty differs from ordinary real estate issues because of the complex legal and financial issues involved. “It is a whole separate body of law,” says Beckwith. “It is not as easy as going down to Century 21 and working out a purchase agreement. One must find a federal statute authorizing the sale, and all of the envi­ronmental laws must be satisfied…”

On the reservation and in the BIA office, one needs to understand fed­eral law along with state law—the latter taking precedent when federal statutes are non-existent.

There are also complex historical issues involved, including the ramifica­tions of the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Indian Reorganization Act of 1939.

Haskell is the perfect place to train students for this field. Terry Beckwith, a 1970 graduate of the college, has recruited about half of his staff from Haskell. This summer, four Haskell students interned at his office, one of which will remain to work throughout the year.

The two year program offered in business admin­istration, according to the Haskell advisory board, made up of BIA real estate specialists, is strong, but the required courses in the associate degree program keep stu­dents from more special­ized classes such as land assessment.

They recommend that the associate degree pro­gram be expanded to four years. This would enable students to specialize dur­ing the last two years in either real estate finance or law. The financial stu­dents would concentrate on accounting and eco­nomics, while those on legal side would take courses, such as contract law.

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