Teepees on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. Photo: Edson Martins

Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs sign agreement for Cobell buy-back program

The Trump administration has entered into the first new agreement since announcing a change in direction for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

Under the agreement, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs will educate landowners on the reservation in Oregon about the program. The goal is to help them decide whether to sell their fractionated interests and have them restored to tribal ownership.

“The tribes look forward to working with the program to create cultural, residential, governmental and economic opportunities by consolidating fractionated lands for the benefit of our tribal community,” Chairman Austin Greene, Jr. said in a press release on Tuesday. “The tribes will be better equipped to manage our lands both on and off reservation. Land is important to us for the continued sovereignty of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Wasco and Paiute people.”

Warm Springs is one of the last 20 reservations where the Trump team plans to carry out the program. A change in strategy was announced in July after new officials at the Department of the Interior raised concerns about how the funds were spent during the Obama era.

“The department remains committed to working with tribal governments on this important program which benefits tribal community members and strengthens tribal sovereignty," said John Tahsuda, a new member of the Trump team who is serving as the "acting" Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. "Partnering with tribal governments is critical for effective outreach, informed decision-making, and to achieve the greatest consolidation of fractional interests and improved land management.”

The program was authorized by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. It set aside $1.9 billion for the department to acquire fractional interests from willing sellers and have those interests restored to tribes, the original owners.

As of October 13, Indian landowners have accepted more than $1.24 billion in offers. Accounting for a fee of 15 percent, or $285 million, that the department is allowed to use for administrative costs, that leaves the program with less than $370 million to spend in the coming years.

In addition to narrowing the list of remaining reservations down to 20, the department said it will focus on lower-value land and mineral interests and in situations where a where a tribe, or even an individual Indian, is willing to contribute their own funds to assist with the program.

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

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