Nearly 850,000 Acres Will Now Stay in Trust for Indian Communities
WASHINGTON – In a major milestone for the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary Michael Connor Thursday announced that more than $500 million has been paid to more than 24,000 individual landowners to restore the equivalent of nearly 850,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
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 individual landowners at fair market value. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
“The Department is making significant progress toward fulfilling President Obama’s goal of strengthening and investing in tribal communities,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Today’s announcement highlights not only the efficiency of our work in the department but also our partnership with tribal governments. The Buy-Back Program and tribal leaders must continue to work together to ensure that landowners are aware of the opportunity to consolidate their fractional land interests for the benefit of both the landowner and tribal communities.”
When the Program began, there were about 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests across Indian Country who were eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many saw little or no economic benefit from what are often small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.
Kevin Washburn, Assistant Interior Secretary – Indian Affairs
“The success of the Buy-Back Program is a critical opportunity for Indian Country,” said Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn. “Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust has enormous potential to improve tribal community resources by increasing home site locations, improving transportation routes, spurring tribal economic development, and preserving traditional cultural or ceremonial sites.”
As Ernest L Stensgar, Vice Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, stated at a recent Listening Session for the Buy-Back Program, “I’m an allottee, but I chose not to sell. But two of my children did – my daughter needed a home and with the proceeds from her interests she was able to buy herself a home. And she said, ‘Dad, I have a home. I have roots here.’ And I said, ‘Well, you keep that home. You’re getting this money back, but more importantly, that land that’s coming to the tribe is going to return to you anyway. It belongs to you, and your children and your children’s children are going to receive benefits from that land. So even though we’re helping you now, you’re also helping yourself and you’re helping your children down the road.’ That’s very, very important to us.”
Individuals who choose to convey their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for conveying their land based on objective appraisals, individuals also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.
Landowners in all 50 states – and many residing internationally – have had the opportunity to participate in the Program. Offers are currently pending at:
- Cheyenne River Indian Reservation (deadline: June 29)
- Fort Belknap Indian Reservation (deadline: July 18)
- Fort Peck Indian Reservation (deadline: July 30)
- Rosebud Indian Reservation (deadline: July 30)
- Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (deadline: July 31)
Tribal governments 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 agreement is unique in time, scope and responsibilities based on the expressed interests of the tribe. More information is available at: http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/tribes/preparation.cfm.
“The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is encouraged by the progress of the Land Buy Back Program in reducing the fractionation of trust lands on the Standing Rock and other reservations and in providing funding to the Cobell Scholarship Fund so our children will have the opportunity to acquire a post-secondary education,” said Dave Archambault II, Chairman, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe hopes to continue to work cooperatively with the Program to complete land exchanges which would further accomplish the goal of reducing the fractionation problem.”
A percentage of Program sales – up to $60 million – is contributed to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, which will make financial assistance available to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary and graduate education and training. Interior has thus far transferred more than $17 million to the Scholarship Fund. This contribution is in addition to the amounts paid to individuals who choose to participate, so it does not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests. The Scholarship Fund is administered by the American Indian Graduate Center. More information can be found at: http://www.aigcs.org.
There are many partners within the Department who work with tribal governments for the Buy-Back Program’s successful implementation. This includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST).
Landowners can contact Interior’s Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 to ask questions about their purchase offers and learn about financial planning resources. Individuals can also visit their OST and BIA office, or find more information at http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.