In mid-March the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) sent purchase offers to approximately 16,000 landowners with fractionated interests at the Pine Ridge Reservation. This means that collectively over $100 million could be paid to allottees who choose to sell their interests. Over the coming weeks, this infusion will benefit local businesses and tribal communities. In the long term, it means the return of hundreds of thousands of acres of land to the Oglala Sioux Nation.
Given this historic opportunity, we want to take a moment to highlight some important facts about the Program to help landowners make informed decisions about their participation. Here are some facts that you should know.
· The Buy-Back Program was created as part of the Cobell Settlement to purchase fractionated trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. Congress provided $1.9 billion to purchase these fractionated trust or restricted lands. Every acre purchased will be transferred directly to Tribes in trust.
· If you have an Individual Indian Monies (IIM) account, you are eligible to participate in the Program.
· If you receive an offer you can choose to sell all, some, or none of your fractionated interests. If you voluntarily choose to sell, you will receive fair market value, plus a base payment of $75 per offer. Currently, those who choose to sell typically receive payment into their IIM account within seven days.
· Given the time and cost constraints established by the Cobell Settlement legislation, offers will be good for a limited time – 45 days.
· If you choose to sell, the Program will contribute money to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. Program funds added to the Scholarship Fund will not reduce the amount of money that you will receive. This fund will provide scholarships for American Indian and Alaska Native students attending post-secondary vocational and college institutions. With a cap of $60 million, it will be the largest scholarship fund ever established on behalf of American Indian and Alaska Native students.
· If you have questions about the Program, we will exhaust every effort to make sure that you know the facts about this unique opportunity.
· You may get more information by calling your Fiduciary Trust Office. The Trust Beneficiary Call Center can be reached at (888) 678-6836. We also encourage you to call that number to make sure your contact information is current. Additional information is also available here.
The Buy-Back Program is working to consolidate fractionated lands and immediately restore them to tribal trust ownership. Since December of last year, we have transferred the equivalent of more than 31,000 acres to Tribes. Tribes can then use this land to benefit their communities – for example, to build homes, community centers or businesses, or for cultural or environmental preservation.
We have been so encouraged by the interest in the Program—and know there are many tribes and individuals who are anxious for us to begin implementation at their location. Outreach, mapping and mineral evaluations are already occurring at many reservations. Interior is working with the Oglala Sioux Tribe and other Tribes to conduct outreach throughout Indian Country to get the word out about the Program. As the Program is implemented at each location, we are working with tribal governments to hold outreach events to make sure that landowners have the resources and support needed to make decisions about their land.
There are more than 245,000 owners of more than 3 million fractionated interests, spanning 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Program. Approximately 90 percent of all of the fractionated lands available for purchase under the Cobell Settlement are in 40 of the 150 locations. The Program’s goal is to reach as many of these locations as possible. To do this, we are focusing early implementation efforts on the locations with 90 percent of the fractionation. However, outreach and tribal engagement is continuing with the tribes that represent the locations with the remaining 10 percent.
The success of this Program is vitally important to the future of Indian Country and will help to make a difference for generations to come. The Program has already returned more than 30,000 acres to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and with all of our collective efforts we’ll continue this progress across Indian country.
Larry Roberts is the deputy assistant secretary, Indian affairs.