Native News Network Staff in Native Challenges. Discussion »
WASHINGTON The Department of the Interior on Tuesday announced the initial framework of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations that will purchase fractional interests in American Indian trust lands from willing sellers, enabling tribal governments to use the consolidated parcels for the benefit of their communities.
Department of the Interior
The announcement was made during a press conference, which included Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J Hayes; Kevin K Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins.
The initial implementation plan, based on consultation with tribes, outlines how Interior will carry out the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase the fractionated interests in trust or restricted land, at fair market value, within a 10 year period. These acquired interests will remain in trust or restricted status through transfer to tribes.
"Freeing up fractionated lands for the benefit of tribal nations will increase the number of acres in tribal land bases, stimulate economic development and promote tribal sovereignty and self-determination,"
said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J Hayes.
"This initial plan will guide this landmark effort, and we will continually update the plan to reflect lessons learned and tribal input. We know that success will only happen with the leadership of tribes, and we look forward to working through our nation to nation relationship to implement the important initiative. "
As outlined in a Secretarial Order also announced today, the organizational structure for the Buy-Back Program will consist of a core group in the Office of the Secretary to provide management and performance expertise under the supervision of a Program Manager. The program relies on the extensive expertise and services within Interior, primarily in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians, to implement the operational aspects, including valuations and acquisitions.
To ensure high-level accountability, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has established an oversight board, which includes the Deputy Secretary, Solicitor, Director of the Bureau Indian Affairs and the Special Trustee for American Indians.
Fractionation of Indian lands stems primarily from the General Allotment Act of 1887 which allotted tribal lands to individual tribal members, often in 80 or 160-acre parcels. The lands have been handed down to heirs over successive generations, causing the number of shared interests in one parcel to grow exponentially. Currently, more than 92,000 tracts of land held in trust for American Indians contain 2.9 million fractional interests.
When tracts have so many co-owners, it is often difficult and impractical to obtain the required approvals to lease or otherwise use the lands. As a result, highly-fractionated tracts lie idle, unable to be used for any economical or beneficial purpose or for direct use by tribal communities for their members.
“This program is our chance to begin to solve a fractionation problem that has plagued Indian country for decades,”
said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
“Tribal leadership and community participation are the cornerstones of this program, and we look forward to extensive communication and continuing consultation with Indian country as we move forward.”
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posted December 19, 2012 9:10 am est