January 30, 2015 –
WASHINGTON, DC– In the latest step of the U.S. Interior Department’s work to reduce land fractionation and strengthen tribal sovereignty across Indian Country, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor today announced that two additional agreements have been signed with tribal nations to guide implementation of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program).
The agreements with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas detail what each tribal government will do to help implement the Buy-Back Program and provide resources to facilitate outreach and education. The Department has thus far entered into cooperative or other agreements with nearly 20 sovereign tribal nations.
“We continue to be encouraged by the growing momentum and excitement about the Buy-Back Program across Indian Country,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “As we have made clear, a significant factor in the Program’s success is the ability to work effectively with tribal leadership to best tailor outreach and information to their community. Working closely with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, we can maximize our ability to provide landowners with the information they need to make informed decisions about their land through this voluntary program.”
Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As lands are passed down through generations, they gain more owners. Many tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus, the lands often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose. There are more than 245,000 owners of three million fractionated interests, spanning approximately 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program.
The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. It allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. Consolidated interests are immediately transferred to tribal governments and stay in trust for uses benefiting the tribes and their members. To date, the Buy-Back Program has made more than 46,000 purchase offers to owners of fractionated interests, successfully concluded transactions worth $330 million and restored the equivalent of nearly 541,000 acres of land to tribal ownership.
“The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is one of the most highly fractionated reservations in the country. The Land Buy-Back program will assist us in our continued effort to consolidate our land base,” said Harold Frazier, Chairman Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “It will also have a positive financial impact of our tribal membership. This is especially beneficial considering that our reservation contains the poorest county in the nation. On behalf of the tribal membership, we are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program. The tribal leadership will work cooperatively and diligently to ensure success and maximize the benefits of the Land Buy-Back Program for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.”
Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the Buy-Back Program, including identifying acquisition priorities, conducting appraisals, and leading owner outreach. Each cooperative agreement between the Program and individual tribes is unique in time, scope and responsibilities based on the expressed interests of the tribe. More information and resources for tribal leaders are available at:>http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/tribes/preparation.cfm<.
“The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation looks forward to collaborating with the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations,” said Liana Onnen, Chairperson of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. “Our participation in this program furthers the common goal to purchase highly fractionated trust land from voluntary sellers at fair market value. The consolidated ownership of these fractional interests on behalf of the Nation promotes tribal self-governance and benefits the Nation as a whole.”
The Department has announced 42 locations where land consolidation activities such as planning, outreach, mapping, mineral evaluations, appraisals or acquisitions are expected to take place through the middle of 2017. These communities represent 83 percent of all outstanding fractional interests across Indian Country.
To learn more about the Buy-Back Program, tribal leaders and landowners are encouraged to attend the 2015 Listening Session on March 19, 2015, in Laveen, AZ. More information is available via the Federal Register.
Landowners with fractional interests can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 with questions or to register their information. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at: >www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners<.