On December 9, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation became the first tribe to reach a land-buy back agreement under the Cobell settlement.
An announcement was made by the Department of the Interior in regards to the finalization of “the first cooperative agreement to facilitate the purchase of individual interests in highly fractionated trust lands to consolidate ownership for tribes.”
The agreement between the Oglala and what is known as the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations outlines the strategy and resources that will be provided to the tribe in the ownership exchange. The Buy-Back Program was established to manage and implement the land consolidation component that was an aspect of the Cobell settlement. A fund of $1.9 billion from the settlement will consolidate fractional land interests throughout Indian country – the Oglala Sioux are the first.
The program allows individual owners to voluntarily sell their lands in exchange for payments, those lands will go directly into a trust for the tribe with jurisdiction. The outreach process has begun on the Pine Ridge Reservation and Interior hopes to make the first offers by the end of the year.
“The reservation is among the most fractionated in the United States. Due to the nature of fractionation, the land interests on Pine Ridge are owned by various individuals, including members of other tribes,” an Interior press release stated.
On Saturday, December 14, personnel from the Buy-Back Program will be at Little Wound School in Kyle, South Dakota at 1 p.m. CST to provide information and engage in one-on-one discussions with individual landowners.
“It is a priority for the Obama Administration to reduce fractionation and implement the Buy-Back Program in as fair and equitable a manner as possible,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. “Cooperative agreements give us an opportunity to work together, nation-to-nation, to ensure that the Program’s implementation is tailored to the specific priorities of each tribe. This agreement reflects a spirit of mutual respect and teamwork as we work together to address this opportunity.”
As it stands, Interior has 56 million acres in trust for American Indians. Of that, 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians, with the rest held for Indian tribes. Fractionated lands have hindered resources and development for many tribes. Pine Ridge alone has approximately 6,028 tracts with 195,862 purchasable fractional interests the Interior release said. That staggering figure has made it difficult for potential economic development.
“I am very happy with the agreement and glad that was done,” Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan V. Brewer said. “Our outreach workers are out meeting with the people in the communities. I am hoping that we will be able to start buying the fractionated land that is out there with the money that is available. We are also anticipating the first offer to be complete within the month.”
Interior developed an Updated Implementation Plan after consulting with tribal leaders. The plan “significantly expands Program implementation beyond Interior’s initial strategy to launch pilot efforts with less than a dozen tribes.”
This new approach allows for greater flexibility and stronger engagement with tribal governments in Indian country.
Interior said there is an open solicitation period through March 14, where tribes with jurisdiction over the most fractionated lands are able to submit letters of interest or cooperative agreement applications for participation in the program.
The process has started for many in the form of outreach, mapping and mineral evaluations on locations throughout Indian country.
For more information on steps tribes can take to participate in the Program or on the Program in general visit here.