Native News Online Photo by Levi Rickert
Willing Sellers Have 45 Days to Respond in Voluntary Program
SALT RIVER PIMA-MARICOPA INDIAN COMMUNITY – As part of the Department of Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor Friday announced that more than $20 million in purchase offers have been sent to almost 1,200 landowners with fractional interests at the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in Arizona. Interested sellers will have until March 6, 2015, to return accepted offers.
As part of President Obama’s commitment to help strengthen Native American communities, 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.
Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money 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.
“I am encouraged by the momentum that we continue to see across Indian Country as the Department works with tribal nations to ensure that landowners receive prompt, reliable information about their chance to participate in this historic opportunity to restore Indian lands,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Payments through Program sales are already making a significant difference for individuals, families and their communities.”
Since December 2013, the Buy-Back Program has successfully concluded transactions worth almost $330 million and has restored the equivalent of nearly 540,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
There are approximately 245,000 owners of nearly 3 million fractional interests, spanning 150 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.
Sales of land interests 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.
Offers are currently pending for owners of fractionated land interests at the Squaxin Island Indian Reservation (deadline: January 26, 2015) and the Coeur d’Alene Reservation (deadline: February 2, 2015).
The leaders of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community recently signed an agreement with the Department to guide their participation in the Buy-Back Program. Landowners can contact Amy Solis, the Community’s Land Project Coordinator, at 480-362-7612 email@example.com with questions about their purchase offers. Landowners can also contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836, visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians or Bureau of Indian Affairs office, or find more information at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.