A 2016 listening session on the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Tribes weren't consulted about being removed from Cobell buy-back program

Tribes weren't consulted about being removed from the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, The Huffington Post reports.

Last week, the Trump administration cut the number of tribes on the program schedule from around 70 to just 20. Tribes were told less than an hour before the Department of the Interior issued a press release about the change, according to The Post.

“I think the most problematic part of this is that it only considers the interests of the department, and that was not the initial intent of the settlement,” Keith Harper, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who worked on the Cobell trust fund lawsuit from its inception in 1996 through the settlement for $3.4 billion.

The Cherokee Nation was among those cut from the program. Kim Teehee, a former Obama administration official who now serves as her tribe's vice president of government relations, told The Post that there was no consultation prior to the July 31 announcement.

Officially, the department, even during the Obama era, never engaged in formal government-to-government consultation with tribes about the program. Three listening sessions have been held and some tribes have worked with Interior to hold individualized meetings with their citizens.

Only about $540 million is left in the program. The Trump administration plans to focus on reservations with high levels of fractionation, including 12 where offers were already made during the Obama years. Of those, 5 happen to be based in Montana, the home state of Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The Cobell settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit included $1.9 billion for land consolidation. Through the program, individual Indians receive offers for their fractional, or small, interests but they are not required to accept. Any interests that are acquired are restored to tribes, the original owners of the land.

The Obama administration expended more than $1.1 billion of the fund through early January. Additional offers that went out before the announced changes boosted the figure to about $1.2 billion.

The settlement authorizes Interior to take an administrative cut of 15 percent, or $285 million, to implement the program.

Read More on the Story:
A Hard-Fought Victory To Restore Tribal Land Faces New Threat In Trump Era (The Huffington Post 8/4)
Federal Buy-Back Program Puts 326,000 Acres Back in Blackfeet Hands (The Flathead Beacon 8/4)
Under Trump, tribal land ownership is not a priority (High Country News 7/25)

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