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ICT interview with DOI deputy secretary on Cobell buy-backs

Michael L. Connor, the deputy secretary at the Interior Department.

Indian Country Today interviews Michael Connor, the second-highest ranking official at the Interior Department, about the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations:
Could you describe some of the benefits tribes have derived from the program in terms of economic development or housing?

We’ve seen some very good projects like what’s been done on Pine Ridge [where the Oglala Sioux Tribe recently announced that the tribe is embarking on a $9 million housing program, aided by the recent acquisition of land through the Buy-Back Program].

In addition to the Pine Ridge example, I know that Gila River is looking at some energy development projects and has a utility corridor that they have prioritized to ensure that they can move forward. That’s where they’ve focused a lot of the buy-back program efforts, so the program is helping them move forward with economic development.

Do you have any estimate of how many acres you will be able to buy back altogether with the $1.9 billion?

We have the overall metrics of approximately 245,000 owners, we’ve got 3 million fractional interests and we’ve got 150 reservations, 40 of which comprise about 90 percent of the fractional interest. We have not summed up what we think the overall acreage possibility is.

Is it true, as some have said, that tribes east of the Mississippi River and in California (with one exception) and Alaska have been excluded from the program?

I don’t think we’ve excluded anybody who’s eligible where we’ve identified fractionated interests. That defines the eligibility for the program, whether there are those fractionated interests within the tribal lands. Alaska is excluded by statute. The program doesn’t apply there.

As I mentioned, we’ve identified 42 reservations so far. Overall, we’ve identified 150 reservations eligible to operate the program. We will be continuing to expand the list of communities that we’re working with. This is a 10-year program and we’re now a little over two years in its development, so additional reservations will be added as we move forward.

Get the Story:
ICTMN Exclusive: Interior’s Mike Connor Discusses Tribal Land Buy-Back Program (Indian Country Today 11/20)

Also Today:
Feds Buying Back Tribal Land To Put In Tribe's Trust (Fronteras 11/20)
Government to double number of American Indian communities in $1.9B land buyback program (AP 11/20)

DOI Conference Call:

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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