Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Chuck Sams: Umatilla Tribes sign Cobell land-buy back agreement

Chuck Sams. Photo from Ecotrust

Chuck Sams, the editor of the Confederated Umatilla Journal, reflects on his tribe's participation in the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations:
Today, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation have nearly 3,000 enrolled members. About 400 parcels of land that originally belonged to the tribes have more than 5,000 individual interests. The federal government created this mess, but there is a way out of it.

Elouise Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a precedent-making lawsuit against the Department of Interior over the United States’ mismanagement of Indian trust funds. As a result of the lawsuit’s settlement in 2009, $2 billion was set aside for tribes to repurchase land that had been allotted and distributed under the Slater and Dawes allotment acts.

Now, the Confederated Tribes have signed an agreement with the Interior Department to begin buying back these fractional pieces of property, so that the land can once again be owned in common by the people. There are many challenges that come with doing this, but the Confederated Tribes are well positioned to work with the landowners, many of whom are not tribal members, by offering a fair market payment.

Once the land is back in our hands, we believe there will be greater economic opportunity and better ways to protect and enhance the environment, while using the land in a communal way.

It seems strange that we have to buy back our own land. We did not create this problem. Our ancestors signed the Treaty of 1855 in good faith, convinced that “exclusive use” meant the land was ours forever.

Get the Story:
Chuck Sams: My tribe is ready to buy back land that once was ours (High Country News 7/8)

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