Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh hailed three new agreements between Montana Native American tribes and the U.S. Interior Department to purchase individual interests of fractionated trust lands in order to consolidate ownership and increase economic opportunity in Indian Country.
Tester, Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Walsh have been pushing the department to quickly move forward with the agreements, with Tester previously saying that the "clock is ticking."
"This has been a lengthy and difficult process, but I believe we are finally beginning to see real progress for Indian Country," Tester said. "Consolidating lands will help the tribes develop new economic opportunities and provide financial resources to their members. It's a long-overdue step to fixing a wrong in Indian Country."
"Today's agreements will secure the future of the Fort Peck, Fort Belknap, and Crow communities and ensure that tribal leaders have true authority over their own land," Walsh said. "After visiting with tribal leaders across the state, I understand how vital the Land Buy-Back program is for promoting economic growth and long-term sovereignty, and I remain a committed partner for future economic development for Montana' tribal nations."
The Crow Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation all reached agreements with the department. At a Senate Indian Affairs' Committee hearing in December, Tester heard testimony from tribes about the importance of moving forward with the Land Buy-Back program.
The Cobell Settlement gives the Interior Department ten years to complete the Land Buy-Back Program. Former Senator Max Baucus joined Tester in supporting legislation that finalized a settlement in the decades-old Cobell v. Salazar class-action lawsuit, brought by Blackfeet Tribal member Elouise Cobell against the U.S. government for mismanagement of Indian trust accounts.