Yakama Nation landowners see $68M in Cobell buy-back offers

The Yakama Nation has been conducting outreach as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Photo: Land Buy-Back Program Yakama Nation

The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations has finally arrived on the Yakama Nation.

The Department of the Interior on Monday announced offers to nearly 3,600 landowners on the reservation in Washington. Interested sellers have until June 19 to respond.

“The Buy-Back Program’s primary goal is to consolidate fractional interests, and the Yakama Nation has the largest number of fractional interests in the Northwest Region,” director John McClanahan said in a press release. “This program is making a significant difference for tribal communities, and it is facilitating more effective land management. We will continue to provide landowners with prompt and reliable information about their land to help them make informed decisions.”

A dollar amount was not provided in the press release. But an Interior spokesperson said about $68 million in offers were sent to Yakama Nation landowners.

As of April 17, Indian landowners have accepted more than $1.1 billion through the program. They were paid "fair market" value for their fractional interests.

According to Interior, nearly 680,000 fractional interests have been consolidated, representing a 23 percent reduction. The equivalent of more than 2.1 million acres has been transferred to tribal governments as a result.

The $3.4 billion settlement to the Indian trust fund lawsuit set aside $1.9 billion for the buy-back program. The funds will run out in less than two year if purchases continue at the current rate.

The Trump administration has not said whether it will explore ways to extend the program. Interior is hosting a listening session on Tuesday to solicit views from tribes and landowners.

"Sustained departmental, congressional, and tribal attention will be necessary to address fractionation and maximize the value of the land base for the benefit of tribal communities," a Federal Register notice announcing the meeting states. The session is being hosted by the Tulalip Tribes at the Tulalip Resort Casino in Washington.

Federal Register Notice:
Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations Under Cobell Settlement (April 12, 2017)

Interior Department Report:
2016 Status Report: Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (November 2016)

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