Public universities across the West benefit from extraction on stolen land

Feb 8, 2024

A new report from Grist details how 14 land grant universities—including many in the West—benefit financially from natural resource extraction on land taken by the federal government from Native American Tribes.

The University of Arizona, Colorado State University, the University of Idaho, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, Utah State University, and the University of Wyoming are among the schools that benefit from trust lands. The land that funds these schools was either forcibly taken or bought at below-market rates from Tribes and then turned over to the states by the federal government when they joined the union.

Today, the states manage these trust lands in order to maximize the amount of revenue they can produce. In many cases, this means leasing the lands for drilling, logging, grazing, and mining. Grist found that around 1.5 million acres of university trust land across the U.S. are leased for fossil fuel extraction, while 1.4 million acres of trust land are used for mining. The University of Arizona benefits from the most fossil fuel and mining acreage of any trust land school. Finally, 2.8 million acres of university trust land in the U.S. are leased for grazing.

In some cases, Tribal members benefit directly from this extraction. Utah State University provides free tuition, board, and food for members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone. But not all Native students at land grant universities receive this level of support. Grist found that while students from all 22 Tribes in Arizona receive free tuition at the University of Arizona, living expenses still put college out of reach for some.

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Quote of the day

The Navajo Nation cannot stop the transport of uranium due to state and federal right of ways but the Navajo Nation Council, local government, county, and myself are against uranium mining… I do not want uranium being transported across the Navajo Nation, and we will be looking at feasible options on our end.”

—Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, Navajo-Hopi Observer

Picture This

fuzzy cactus in foreground, mountains in background


You can easily recognize the teddy bear cholla — the star of @JoshuaTreeNPS’ Cholla Cactus Garden — by its densely interlaced yellow spines. Segments of their spines will latch on the slightest touch, giving these cacti the nickname “jumping cholla.” Photo by Brad Sutton


Feature image: The University of Arizona; Huperphuff, Wikipedia