What Is an Indian Reservation?

indian-reservation Credit: Richard Martin/CC-BY 2.0

An Indian reservation is a type of United States federal land reserved specifically for an Indian tribe or multiple tribes that has an agreement or treaty with the United States government. Indian reservation land can also be created as part of an administrative action, federal statute or executive order. This type of federal land is created to become a permanent homeland for the Indian tribe, though the U.S. government holds the land's title on behalf of the tribes.

As of 2015, Indian reservation land held in trust by the United States government measures approximately 56.2 million acres that are separated across 326 individual reservations. Indian reservations can also be one of many types, including Indian villages, communities, rancherias, pueblos and missions. The largest Indian reservation area in the United States is the Navajo Nation Reservation, which measures 16 million acres in size and is found in parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The smallest Indian reservation land is located in California and is a 1.32-acre area that contains the cemetery for the Pit River Tribe.

Indian reservations can either be the remaining area of an Indian tribe's original homeland or part of a forcible resettlement by the United States government.