The Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota is home to the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes. Photo:

Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations sends out more offers

By Acee Agoyo

The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations has reached the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes

More than 3,000 landowners received more than $35 million in purchase offers for their fractional interests on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, the Department of the Interior announced on Thursday. Willing sellers have until April 15, 2019, to accept.

“The Buy-Back Program is excited to be working with the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation to consolidate land and provide opportunities for the community at the Fort Berthold Reservation,” program rirector John McClanahan said. “The cooperative agreement between the Three Affiliated Tribes and the program to conduct outreach will ensure that the tribe’s expertise and knowledge are leveraged for maximum impact. We will continue to work together to ensure that landowners are aware of this unique opportunity and understand their options and the resources available to make an informed decision.”

The Land Buy-Back Program was designed to address the fractionation of Indian lands. Over time, parcels become owned by a growing number of individuals, making the properties more difficult to manage and harder to explore economic opportunities.

Since the first offers went out in December 2012, more than 66,300 individual Indians have accepted payment for their fractional interests, according to sales data from the program. They have received more than $1.37 billion for their holdings.

Another goal of the program is to promote tribal self-determination. Since 2012, the equivalent of more than 2.35 million acres has been restored to tribal governments, the original owners of the land.

Overall, more than 838,000 fractional interests have been transferred to tribal governments, according to Interior. As a result, tribal ownership now exceeds 50 percent in 15,800 more tracts of land, representing an increase of approximately 130 percent for the locations where implementation has occurred.

The program was funded by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. Of that amount, $1.9 billion was set aside for land consolidation.

As of February 8, about $527.4 million remains in the program. Under the terms of the settlement, the money must be spent by November 2022, or 10 years after the first offers went out.

With the pot slowly drying up, the Trump administration in July 2017 announced that it was shifting the focus of the program. The remaining funds are being directed to 20 reservations where officials believe the money can be put to best use.

Tribes weren't consulted prior to the decision and dozens were excluded from the new implementation schedule.

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

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