Veterans on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota. Photo: Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Landowners on Spirit Lake Nation see nearly $13 million in Cobell Buy-Back offers

Landowners on the Spirit Lake Nation have received nearly $13 million offers for their fractional interests.

The Department of the Interior sent out the offers as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. More than 5,000 landowners on the reservation in North Dakota are eligible.

“The Buy-Back Program provides landowners with a unique opportunity,” program director John McClanahan said on Monday. “Tribal and program staff are working diligently to perform landowner outreach to facilitate informed decisions regarding fractional interests at Spirit Lake, one of the many highly fractionated reservations in the Great Plains Region.”

The Spirit Lake Nation is one of the last places where the Trump administration plans to implement the program. Since the program will run out of funds, officials are targeting only 20 reservations, including some where offers were made during the Obama era.

The offers at Spirit Lake also mark another shift in the program, as landowners who received offers have 60 days to decide whether to accept. During the Obama era, the deadline was 45 days.

As of September 22, more than 63,000 landowners have accepted offers for their fractional interests, according to the department. A total of $1.24 billion has been spent to acquire those lands.

As a result, tribes have reclaimed ownership in the equivalent of more than 2.1 million acres, according to the department.

The $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit provided $1.9 billion for the Buy-Back Program. It allowed Interior to take a cut of 15 percent, or $285 million, for administrative costs.

Based on the September 22 figures, and taking into account the administrative costs, the department has $374 million left to spend on land consolidation in Indian Country.

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