Voluntary Program will Strengthen Tribal Sovereignty across Indian Country
WASHINGTON – Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor announced Thursday that the Department has signed a cooperative agreement with the Osage Nation to implement the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program). The Buy-Back Program facilitates the purchase of individual interests in fractionated trust lands and consolidates ownership for the tribe with jurisdiction.
Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the Buy-Back Program, including identifying acquisition priorities and leading owner outreach. The Department has entered into cooperative or other agreements with 20 sovereign tribal nations thus far. Each cooperative agreement between the Program and individual tribes is unique in time, scope and responsibilities based on the expressed interests of the tribe. More information and resources for tribal leaders are available at: http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/tribes/preparation.cfm.
“The Cobell Settlement provided no more than 10 years to implement this program, which helps fulfill President Obama’s commitment to strengthen Native American communities,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “We will meet this ambitious schedule by giving tribal governments the resources and flexibility to carry out the Program in coordination with tribal priorities. We look forward to working with Osage Nation to make sure landowners have the information they need to make informed decisions about their land.”
The agreement with Osage Nation outlines the strategy and resources to be provided to tribal leadership to facilitate landowner education about the Buy-Back Program and reach out to individuals with fractionated interests in reservation land that can be consolidated for the benefit of the tribal community.
Since it began making offers in December 2013, the Program has paid nearly $435 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of more than 690,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
“In the year 1906, the Osage owned all of the nearly 1.5 million acres of our Reservation,” said Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. “Today, we have less than 4 percent of the land in Osage ownership. Much of the remaining land is held in fractionated ownership. The Land-Buy Back Program provides an opportunity for the Osage Nation to purchase some of the fractionated interests for complete ownership of land parcels. By having one owner, we can finally determine the highest and best use of the land.”
There are approximately 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests across Indian Country who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.
The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. It allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. Interested sellers receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) account, and consolidated interests are immediately transferred to tribal governments and stay in trust for uses benefiting the tribes and their members.
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. Details are available in the Program’s 2014 Status Report.
Landowners can contact the 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. 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 athttp://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.