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Interior to Hold Annual Buy-Back Program Listening Session in Washington State

Interior Department staff will be at the Tulalip Resort Casino on April 25 to host their annual listening session about the Buy-Back Program.

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The Tulalip Tribes of Washington are poised to increase their land mass by five square miles should individual landowners choose to take advantage of the Interior Department’s Land Buy-Back Program.

The Tulalip reservation, home to the Duwamish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Samish and Stillaguamish people, encompasses about 35 square miles in the mid-Puget Sound area of Washington State. According to Interior Department data, an additional 3,374 acres—or 5.3 square miles—could be returned to the tribes through the Buy-Back Program.

Interior Department staff will be at the Tulalip Resort Casino on April 25 to host their annual listening session about the Buy-Back Program. The day-long session is open to Tulalip landowners, along with any other interested parties in the Pacific Northwest.

“This is definitely not a Washington-exclusive event,” a spokeswoman for the Buy-Back Program said in an email to ICMN. “Tribal input, participation and active landowner engagement is critical to the implementation of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.”

The program, a component of the Cobell Settlement that was established in 2012, seeks to reverse federal policy enacted 130 years ago that now ties up millions of acres of tribal land. Under the Dawes Act of 1887, individual Indians were granted 160-acre allotments of land if they agreed to be “civilized” and give up “surplus” lands to white settlers.

Six generations later, however, those original parcels have passed to hundreds or even thousands of heirs, leading to fractionated interests—and gridlocks when it comes to developing or improving the land. The Buy-Back Program, funded with $1.9 billion, promises to help tribes consolidated fractionated interests.

On the Tulalip Reservation, 147 tracts of land contain a total of 1,855 purchasable interests, with 937 unique interest owners, according to Interior Department data. Marie Zackuse, chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, said land owners are looking forward to implementation.

“The Land Buy-Back Program will make it possible for the Tulalip Tribes to acquire lands previously held, in some cases, by dozens of tribal members,” she said. “We will now be able to provide comprehensive land management over these lands which will ultimately benefit the entire community.”

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Even those who choose not to sell their interests benefit through the program by gaining access to information about the land, Zackuse said. “This includes answers to how many individuals are listed as owners of a parcel, how they might sell it or how they might leave it to a family member.”

Nationwide, there are approximately 243,000 owners of nearly 3 million fractionated interests. The program has identified 105 locations in Indian country where implementation will occur by the middle of 2021.

Under the program, owners can voluntarily sell their interests at fair market value, allowing the Interior to restore the land to the tribes. Tribal leaders can decide how and when to open the land to development.

“The Buy-Back Program is a historic opportunity for the Department of the Interior to work together with Indian country to strengthen tribal sovereignty and free up resources that have been locked-up over time,” the spokeswoman said. “Regardless of whether or not a landowner chose to participate, we want to receive their feedback about program implementation, what we can do to improve, and to share any input regarding future efforts to address fractionation across Indian country.”

The listening session is an annual event, held at different locations in Indian country and designed to provide landowners with information and program officials with feedback about implementation. Landowners who have not yet participated in the program also can learn more about the status of their interests and financial options should they choose not to sell.

“The participation and engagement of tribal nations and landowners has been critical to the success of the Buy-Back Program, and the significant results to date stem directly from that collaboration,” the spokeswoman said. “The purpose of the listening session is to gather input from Indian country on program implementation and to discuss steps to continue to address fractionation and the challenges it poses for tribal sovereignty and effective land use.”

Since the Buy-Back Program began making offers to landowners in December 2013, it has paid out $1.1 billion, or more than half of its budget. Nearly 680,000 fractionated interests have been consolidated, about 2.1 million acres of land have been restored to tribes, and tribal ownership is now greater than 50 percent in more than 13,500 tracts of land.

A landowner outreach session runs from 9 to 11 a.m., April 25, followed by a listening session from 1 to 5 p.m. Program staff will be available to answer questions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

All meetings will take place at the Tulalip Resort Casino, 10200 Quil Ceda Blvd., in Tulalip, Washington. For more information, call 1-888-678-6836 or visit www.doi.gov/buybackprogram.

Buy-Back Program