Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National

Three more tribes enter into cooperative agreements for Cobell land buy-back program

A fish hatchery on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Photo from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Three more tribes are joining the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in California, the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho and the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota are the latest to sign cooperative agreements with the Interior Department. The tribes will help facilitate sales for the program, which has so far paid more than $761 million to over 71,600 individual Indian landowners.

“Together, through our nation-to-nation engagement with tribal governments, we are fulfilling the Obama administration’s steadfast commitment to strengthening tribal sovereignty,” Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said in a press release. “Working collaboratively with tribal partners across the country, we have made tremendous strides in restoring nearly 1.5 million acres of land to tribes, and we look forward to continuing this effort with these three sovereign nations.”

The $3.4 billion Cobell settlement provided $1.9 billion for Indian landowners who want to sell their fractionated interests. The Indian Land Consolidation Act requires the federal government to pay "fair market value" for the interests.

Since the effort began in late 2013, individual Indians have accepted $761.5 million for their interests, according to an April 15 chart from the program. The equivalent of nearly 1.5 million acres has been transferred to tribes as a result.

“This creates opportunities for economic development through consolidating land ownership," observed Jeff L. Grubbe, the chairman of the Agua Caliente Band.

"The tribe believes purchasing fractional interests in trust or restricted land on the reservation will provide the tribe and its members with increased economic development, home site development and agricultural opportunities," said Nez Perce Chairman Anthony Johnson.

"The Buy-Back Program provides opportunities to willing sellers to gain an economic boost to their family income for purchases of goods and services that sometimes are just beyond their economic reach," added Yankton Sioux Chairman Robert Flying Hawk.

The program has another benefit as well. A portion of every sale goes to the Cobell scholarship fund, which now boasts a balance of nearly $39 million.

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