Published May 26, 2016
Program restores Indian lands to strengthen tribal communities
WASHINGTON – As momentum continues with the success of Interior Department’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor announced on Wednesday that the Department has signed agreements with three additional tribes to guide implementation – the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians of the Bad River Reservation, Wisconsin; the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska; and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation in Washington state.
The agreements outline coordinated strategies to facilitate education about the Program to landowners. To date, the Department has entered into agreements with 34 tribal nations to cooperatively implement the Buy-Back Program. Each agreement is unique in time, scope and responsibilities, based on the expressed interests of the tribe.
“The success of the Buy-Back Program is in our ongoing collaborations with tribal governments and active outreach to individual owners,” Deputy Secretary Connor said. “We know that tribal leaders can best explain the significant benefit and planned use of consolidated lands for their community. We are committed to making sure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty and keep land in trust by consolidating fractional land interests.”
The Department recently announced an expansion of the Program that brings the number of locations planned for implementation to 105, a total that includes more than 96 percent of all landowners with fractionated interests and more than 98 percent of both purchasable fractional interests and equivalent acres in program-eligible areas.
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. Returning fractionated 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.
“Agreeing to a cooperative working relationship with the Land Buy-Back Program gives the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa assistance with reducing fractionated interests, a necessary step in resolving our housing and economic needs,” said Robert Blanchard, Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. “It is also a step further in conservation management of our natural resources, protecting wild rice, fishery, wildlife and the health and cultural benefits our land provides.”
Winnebago Tribal Chairwoman Darla LaPointe said: “The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska made a strategic decision to be involved with the Buy-Back Program. This opportunity will provide the tribe with communal use and land development that fit our tribal priorities as a whole. The tribe will benefit with additional lands, the landowners will benefit monetarily and our local agency’s issue with fractionalization will be drastically reduced. So we see this decision as mutually beneficial to all parties.”
“The Yakama People have been greatly harmed by the historic allotment and fractionation of Yakama lands,” added Yakama Tribal Council Chairman JoDe Goudy. “The Land Buy-Back Program represents an important opportunity to get fractional land interests consolidated and placed into trust for the benefit of the Yakama Nation and its Tribal members. The Yakama Tribal Council is pleased to have entered into a cooperative agreement with the Department of the Interior to let our people know about this important program.”
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.
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. Since it began making offers in December 2013, the Program has paid more than $740 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million acres of land to tribal governments.
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 or visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) to ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources. Additional information is available at: >www.doi.gov/buybackprogram<.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on Native News Online.