Willing Sellers Have 45 Days to Respond in Voluntary Land Buy-Back Program
WASHINGTON—In one of the largest offerings to date, the Department of the Interior today announced that its Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has sent $195 million in purchase offers to more than 16,000 landowners with fractional interests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North and South Dakota.
The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within 10 years. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
“I am greatly encouraged by the steady interest we are seeing in the Buy-Back Program across Indian Country and by the partnerships we are developing with tribal governments to tailor implementation to each location,” said Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor. “The Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the payments are already making a significant difference for individuals, families and their communities.”
Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. Interested sellers have 45 days – until June 1, 2015 – to return signed offers in the pre-paid postage envelops provided.
Thus far the Buy-Back Program has paid more than $360 million to individual landowners and has restored the equivalent of almost 580,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
Offers are also currently pending at:
- Umatilla Indian Reservation (deadline: April 13)
- Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (deadline: April 20)
- Rosebud Indian Reservation (deadline: May 16)
Sales of land interests will also result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This contribution by Interior is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests. Last week, Interior announced that it has transferred more than $17 million to the Scholarship Fund since the Buy-Back Program began making offers in 2013.
The Department has announced 42 locations where land consolidation activities such as planning, outreach, mapping, mineral evaluations, appraisals or acquisitions are expected to take place through the middle of 2017. These communities represent 83 percent of all outstanding fractional interests across Indian Country as described in the Program’s Status Report.
There are about 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests, spanning 150 American Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often very small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North & South Dakota created a video earlier this year to help educate landowners about the Buy-Back Program. For more information, landowners can call the tribe’s Buy-Back Program office at 701-854-7127 or go to www.srstbuyback.com.
Landowners can contact Interior’s Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 to update their contact information, ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources available through Interior. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.