Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National

DOI issues status report on Cobell land consolidation program

The Interior Department released a status report on the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations today and announced plans to expand efforts to more reservations.

Since the program launched a year ago, DOI has completed $225 million in acquisitions from willing individual Indian beneficiaries. Some 375,000 acres have been transferred to tribal governments.

"We have turned the words of the Cobell settlement into action," Michael Connor, the deputy secretary at DOI, said on a conference call this afternoon

In May, DOI started working with tribes on 21 reservation to identify landowners, hold outreach meetings and facilitate purchases. Efforts on these reservations will continue through 2015.

Another 21 reservations -- representing tribes from California to Wyoming to Oklahoma -- will be joining the program as well. Efforts are expected to start soon and last until the middle of 2017.

Tribal representatives learned about the program during the White House Tribal Nations Conference in November 2013. Photo from DOI

On the conference call, Connor said interest in the program remains strong in Indian Country. As offers were sent out on each individual reservation, DOI expected about 30 percent of landowners to accept.

"The acceptance rate is increasing," Connor said -- it's now up to 42 percent.

DOI also plans to return to some reservations for another round of offers.

"My expectation is we are not done there with our work," said Connor, referring specifically to landowners from the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who were the first participants in the program last year and early this year.

With the 42 reservations in the program, Connor said they represent 83 percent of the outstanding fractionated interests. The tribes represent 15 of the 19 states where fractionation is an issue, he said.

In hopes of improving the program going forward, DOI will hold a listening session in March 2015 to hear from tribes and individual Indians. And some changes are being made to the way trust records are treated in order to improve information sharing.

"Getting better access to records is going to be a continuing challenge," Connor said.

A notice was published in the Federal Register last week outlining the changes at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A second notice will be published affecting the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.

The $3.4 billion Cobell settlement provided $1.9 billion for Indian landowners who want to sell their fractionated interests. DOI will pay "fair market value" as required by the Indian Land Consolidation Act.

H.R.4783, the Claims Settlement Act of 2010, requires the land consolidation fund to be spent in 10 years. The settlement became final in November 2012 so the deadline would be 2022 unless modified by Congress.

"The last thing any of us want is to have the return of any of these funds to the U.S. Treasury at the end of the program in 2022," Connor said.

Audio from today's conference call can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Status Report:
Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (November 2014)

Federal Register Notice:
Privacy Act of 1974, as Amended; Notice To Amend an Existing System of Records (November 14, 2014)

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