Michael Connor: Making informed decisions for land buy-back

Michael Connor. Photo from Bureau of Reclamation

Michael Connor, the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, discusses the successes of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations:
This week, the Department of the Interior hit a significant milestone, paying more than $500 million to approximately 30,000 individual landowners through the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program). The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the historic Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. As a result of actions taken to date, the equivalent of approximately 850,000 acres of land have been restored to tribal ownership, benefiting both individual landowners and Native American communities.

This is a significant achievement for the Program, which began making offers in 2013, and reflects tremendous work in partnership with tribal governments across Indian Country.

While I am happy for the individuals who have accepted land offers, I am equally encouraged by the more than 85,000 individuals who have had the opportunity to participate in the program. This is a voluntary program, but we are committed to offering this opportunity to as many individuals as we can within the ten-year timeframe established by the U.S. Congress. The last thing we want is to return any of these funds to the U.S. Treasury.

Because purchase offers are effective for 45 days, landowners receive information about the program far in advance of its implementation at their location. We are focused on ensuring that landowners are given adequate time and opportunity to discuss participation with their family and community in order to make informed decisions about the potential sale of their land.

We know that selling land is a deeply personal decision that has impacts for both the landowner and the tribal community.

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Michael Connor: Informed Decision-Making and Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program (Indian Country Today 6/25)

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