The Crow Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have signed land buyback agreements with the federal government to further reduce fractionation of their lands.
“It is my hope that this historic agreement will begin to address the growing problem of fractionalization of Indian land ownership on our Reservation by restoring our tribal land base, promoting Indian self-determination, strengthening and advancing the economic security of our tribal community, and fulfill the United States’ trust responsibility to Indians,” said A.T. Stafne, Chairman of the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board, in a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior. “This Agreement recognizes the Tribes’ capacity, professionalism and familiarity with trust lands on Fort Peck Reservation to efficiently implement land purchases.”
The Buy Back Program is the vehicle for implementing the land-consolidation aspect of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country, the Department of the Interior explained.
The program 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, Interior said. The transactions will also send an estimated $60 million to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund.
The earliest offers went to owners on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the most fractionated of all current Indian lands. Those owners have until July 21 to respond, the DOI said in a July 7 statement.
The program has also drafted agreements with the Coeur d’Alene, Umatilla and Gila River tribes to facilitate purchases, the DOI announced in May. There have been several others as well.
The Buy-Back Program since its inception has made about 33,000 purchase offers to owners of fractionated interests and successfully concluded transactions worth more than $72 million, Interior said. This has restored the equivalent of more than 203,000 acres of land to tribal ownership, the department said.
“President Obama has made clear his commitment to help strengthen Native American communities and I am proud that today we are continuing that momentum with the steady implementation of the Buy-Back Program,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “I want to thank the Crow Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation for their partnership as we work together to ensure individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands for the benefit of each tribal nation.”
The chiefs of the other nations were equally enthusiastic.
“The Crow Tribe has been focused on addressing fractionated lands on the Crow Reservation for decades,” said Crow Chairman Old Coyote in the DOI statement. “We continue to be committed to restoring the tribal land base and are optimistic that the Cobell Land Buy-Back Program will provide critical funding towards these efforts.”
They also expressed gratitude.
“Fort Belknap would like to express their appreciation with the Land Buy-Back Agreement,” said Councilman Curtis Horn, Fort Belknap Indian Community Tribal Land Chairman. “We have had a professional working relationship with the Land Buy-Back team. Fort Belknap will be looking forward to increasing tribal land ownership and strengthening the economic environment for the tribe and tribal members. Consolidated tracts are a greater benefit to the overall land use and produce greater income.”