Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National

DOI signs Cobell buy-back agreements with two more tribes

The Bureau of Indian Affairs agency at Round Valley, California, in 1876. Photo from National Archives and Records Administration via Wikipedia

The Interior Department signed two more cooperative agreements for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The Round Valley Indian Tribes of California and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota are the latest to join the effort. The tribes will help inform landowners about the program in order to facilitate potential sales of their fractional interests.

“Federal and tribal partners must do all we can to give landowners a meaningful chance to participate in this unique Program and receive compensation for their fractional interests,” said Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said in a press release. “We welcome the active participation of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, which will be critical to the success of implementing the Buy-Back Program at their locations

According to Round Valley President James Russ, the majority of lands on the reservation are owned by individual Indians. Participation in the buy-back program would put money on their hands and restore the fractional interests to the tribe.

"We will be able start resolving some of our housing and economic needs, as well as be able to manage untouched portions of our vast natural resources," Russ said in the press release.

The Turtle Mountain Band is in a similar situation. Chairman Richard McCloud said fractionation hinders development on the reservation.

"With an enrollment of approximately 31,500 members and a very limited land base, undivided interest owners see little or no economic benefit," McCloud said.

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.

Since the first offers went out two years ago, Indian landowners have accepted nearly $729.4 million as of December 15, according to the program. The equivalent of nearly 1.49 million acres has been transferred to tribal governments.

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