A welcome sign on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Juliana Clifford

Landowners on Rosebud Reservation see more Cobell buy-back offers

Citizens of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are benefiting from a third round of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The tribe was one of the first to participate in the program, with offers going out twice during the Obama administration. Individual Indian landowners received nearly $24 million for their fractional interests, according to data from the Department of the Interior. And the equivalent of nearly 47,000 acres was restored to tribal ownership.

The Trump administration is now hoping to repeat that success. More than $36 million in purchase offers just went out on the reservation, the department announced on Wednesday.

“The Buy-Back Program is pleased to be partnering with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe through a memorandum of agreement to implement the program at the reservation,” said John McClanahan, the director of the federal initiative.

“During our return visit to this location the program will be collaborating with the tribe towards our shared goals of promoting informed decisionmaking among landowners and maximizing the consolidation of fractional interests," McClanahan added. "We look forward to building on the achievements of the initial implementation at Rosebud, which resulted in the consolidation of more than 21,000 equivalent acres with potential surface use, such as farming, and more than 24,000 equivalent acres with subsurface rights.”

The Land Buy-Back Program was created by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. To stem the fractionation of Indian lands, in which parcels become owned by a growing number of individuals, and to promote tribal self-determination, $1.9 billion was set aside for the initiative.

As of August 10, individual Indians have received more than $1.27 billion for their fractional interests. The equivalent of 2.168 million acres has been restored to tribes, the original owners of the land.

But with the funds drying up, the Trump administration last July announced a change in the program's direction. Without consulting tribes, the department cut back the number of reservations that were to benefit from around 70 to just 20.

Of the 20 still on the implementation schedule, 12 represent reservations where landowners previously saw offers. Of those repeats, five happen to be located in Montana, the home state of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a Navy SEAL veteran has been adopted by a family from the Fort Peck Tribes.

Despite the shift, "new" money isn't actually going out to Indian Country. The offers at Rosebud, for example, are being drawn from the same pool of funds, around $137 million that went out during the Obama era.

According to the department, 30 percent of those offers were accepted, so the third round could increase the rate at Rosebud. The national average has been 44 percent, though some reservations have seen higher acceptance rates.

Landowners at Rosebud have until October 2 to respond to the offers. Participation is entirely voluntary.

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

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