In a major step toward fully implementing the historic Cobell settlement, the Department of the Interior announced today that it has sent initial purchase offers to consolidate ownership of highly fractionated trust lands. Working closely with the Oglala Sioux leadership to facilitate the tribe's priorities, owners of fractionated land interests at the Pine Ridge Reservation are the first to receive purchase offers under the Department's Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Purchase offers to individuals with interests at the Makah Indian Reservation will also be sent this week. Additional sets of offers will be sent to owners of interests at both locations in the coming weeks. Purchasing interests at fair market value from willing sellers will ultimately further strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands.
As part of President Obama's commitment to help strengthen Indian communities, the Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10-year period. Consolidated parcels will be transferred to tribal governments for uses benefiting the tribes.
"The Buy-Back Program is one of the clearest opportunities we have to put power and decision-making back in the hands of tribal nations -- to stimulate their economies, to determine how to manage their available resources, and to promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "I want to acknowledge the incredible effort that went into this milestone, through our nation-to-nation relationship and across the Department. It is this spirit of collaboration that will continue to guide our efforts to reduce fractionation and implement the Buy-Back Program in as efficient, transparent and fair a manner as possible."
Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 93,500 -- on approximately 150 reservations -- contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program. Approximately 90% of the fractionated lands available to purchase are in 40 of the 150 locations.
The Pine Ridge Reservation is among the most highly-fractionated locations in the United States. In Pine Ridge alone, there are approximately 6,028 tracts with 195,862 purchasable fractional interests. Landowners with purchasable interests have been located in 46 states across the country. The Department recently announced a cooperative agreement with the Oglala Sioux tribe, which enables the tribe's leadership to utilize administrative program resources to conduct owner outreach and education about the Buy-Back Program.
"Today's announcement honors the commitment we made that initial offers would be received before the end of the year," said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. "Our partnerships with Indian Country have been critical to the work that has gotten us to today and we look forward to our continued work together. This is a program that will move thoughtfully to tailor implementation to fit the unique priorities of each nation."
The announcement of purchase offers at the Makah Indian Reservation demonstrates both the diversity and flexibility of the Department's land consolidation strategy. Implementation of the Buy-Back Program on Makah, which has 257 fractionated tracts containing 5,816 purchasable interests, is being facilitated by the tribe through informal collaboration. This is different than on Pine Ridge, where the Oglala Sioux tribe is helping carry out the functions of the Buy-Back program through a cooperative agreement with Interior. Tribes have the ability to work with Interior to choose the best implementation plan for their unique situation.
Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days from the date of the Cover Letter in the Offer Package. Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers, or find more information here.
The announcement of Interior's progress with Pine Ridge and Makah comes shortly after the Buy-Back Program announced an open solicitation through March 2014 and expansion of its implementation strategy to allow for a greater amount of engagement across Indian Country.