Land buy-back hits milestone with over $500M in purchases

A view of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Photo from Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

Individual Indian landowners have been paid more than $500 million for their fractional interests, the Interior Department announced on Thursday.

More than 24,000 landowners have benefited from the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations began in late 2013. The equivalent of nearly 850,000 acres has been transferred to tribal governments as a result of the purchases.

“The success of the Buy-Back Program is a critical opportunity for Indian Country,” Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said in a press release. “Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust has enormous potential to improve tribal community resources by increasing home site locations, improving transportation routes, spurring tribal economic development, and preserving traditional cultural or ceremonial sites.”

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.

Participation is entirely voluntary. Any land that is acquired will be returned to tribes.

"The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is encouraged by the progress of the Land Buy Back Program in reducing the fractionation of trust lands on the Standing Rock and other reservations," Chairman Dave Archambault II of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota and South Dakota said in the press release.

More than 16,000 individual Indian landowners at Standing Rock received offers totaling nearly $197 million for their interests. As of June 19, 33 percent had accepted, according to a chart from the buy-back program.

Nationwide, 37 percent of offers have been accepted, according to DOI. On the Crow Reservation in Montana, 64 percent accepted, for offers totaling $130 million.

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