The Program

The Cobell v Salazar Settlement Agreement (Cobell Settlement) provided a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund (Fund) to be expended within a 10-year period ending in November 2022.

The Cobell Settlement makes the Fund available to the U.S. Department of the Interior (Department or Interior) to acquire fractional interests in trust or restricted land from individuals who are willing to sell their interests for fair market value. In 2012, the Secretary of the Interior established the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program or Program) to implement the land consolidation aspects of the Settlement.

The principal goal of the Buy-Back Program is to consolidate the maximum number of fractional land interests through voluntary sales that place purchased interests into trust for Tribes. These transfers increase Tribal trust land bases for conservation, stewardship, economic development, or other uses deemed beneficial by sovereign Tribal nations.

The Program began purchasing fractional interests in December 2013 and thus far has consolidated more than 800,000 interests, equivalent to 2.3 million acres, across 50 locations in 15 states.

The Buy-Back Program has been implemented in 50 locations in 15 states, has consolidated more than 800,000 fractional interests, has received 66,000 accepted offers from individuals, and has consolidated 2.3 million acres

Graphic depicts results through December 31, 2018

More information about the Program and fractionation can be found on the following pages:

  • Fractionation – Explains what fractionation is; provides a brief history of fractionation in Indian Country, as well as the state of fractionation today; and the impact of the Buy-Back Program on reducing this problem.
  • Program History – Includes a timeline of Buy-Back Program milestones, background on the Cobell Settlement, and links to previous years’ Status Reports and Implementation Plans.
  • Organizing Principles – Discusses organizing principles the Buy-Back Program uses to guide the design and implementation of the Program.
  • Scholarship Fund – Provides information related to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund that is designed to provide financial assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training.
Transcript: 

Hau. Yá'át'ééh. Osiyo. Aniin. Hello.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.
This is a time sensitive, unique opportunity for owners of fractional land interests to receive fair market value for their land, and to strengthen tribal sovereignty across Indian County.
The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within 10 years. 
Land fractionation is a serious problem in Indian country.
As individual allotted tracts of tribal land are passed down through generations, they gain more and more owners. In fact, many allotments now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. Many tracts have more owners than acres. 
Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus for how to use the land, allotments often lie idle and can’t be used for any beneficial purpose.
This Program – created in partnership with the Cobell plaintiffs – works to remedy this issue, caused by years of now repudiated federal policies.
It will help stop the loss of Indian lands by transferring those interests to the tribe, forever preventing further fractionation.
Land consolidation also increases the ability of tribal governments to make decisions about the land for the benefit of their people, and frees up resources that have been locked up as land interests have fractionated exponentially over time.
The Buy-Back Program works in partnership with tribes to ensure that eligible landowners are aware of their opportunity to sell their fractionated lands. 
Those who choose to sell receive fair market value for their land interests, plus $75 per offer packet to compensate sellers for their time and effort. 
Fair market value determinations for the Program are performed by a licensed appraiser. The fair market value of a landowner’s interest is that appraiser's estimate of what it would sell for in an open and competitive market and what a buyer might pay in the current market. Program appraisals are good for nine months after they are completed.
Sale proceeds are deposited directly into a landowner’s Individual Indian Money – or IIM – account.
Upon sale, the fractionated land interests are immediately transferred in trust directly to the tribe that has jurisdiction, preventing further fractionation. 
The tribe can then use this land to benefit its community; for example, to build homes, community centers or businesses, or for cultural or environmental preservation.
As the Buy-Back Program works with tribes to address the issue of fractionation, there are several factors that guide its implementation.
It is a priority for the Program that landowners receive adequate information in order to make informed decisions about the use of their land. This occurs well before a landowner considers his or her purchase offer, which is only valid for 45 days. 
Making informed decisions occurs through various means, including:

Understanding your land. This involves encouraging landowners to study the Individual Trust Interest or ITI Report that includes a description of the land location; ownership type such as, surface, mineral, or both; and tract ID information.

Reviewing all the options. For example, owners may want to consider: writing a will to leave all of their interests to an heir or the tribe; gifting interests to an heir or tribe; selling or buying interests to or from co-owners; exchanging their interests with the tribe; or creating a joint tenancy for their interests by will or deed. 

Considering the financial implications from a potential sale. It is important that landowners think strategically about whether or not to sell their land, and if so, how to use the funds they receive. Financial training, including budgeting, investing, and planning for the future, empowers beneficiaries to grow and sustain personal wealth. Landowners interested in learning more about financial awareness may contact the Call Center, their local Fiduciary Trust Officer, work with one of OST’s many partner organizations that provide financial education, or visit the OST website supporting financial empowerment. 
By tailoring the Program to the tribal goals and priorities at each location, we are upholding and respecting tribal sovereignty and self-determination.  The Program shows how trust and partnership with tribal nations are effective forces of positive change.  
Per the Cobell Agreement, any amounts not used by the Program by November 2022 must be returned to the U.S. Treasury. Because of this, we must work together to ensure that the Program is efficiently carried out at each location. That means maximizing our implementation time, ensuring adequate outreach before purchase offers are extended so that landowners may make informed decisions, and striving to generate a single wave of purchase offers to the largest amount of eligible landowners possible. 
There are four major phases of the Buy-Back Program. Each of these involve a team of dedicated Interior Department employees working in partnership with tribal land staff to ensure Program success.
Number 1: Outreach to inform landowners about the Buy-Back Program; answer questions; find and identify interested sellers; and collaborate with tribes to implement culturally-specific approaches. 
Number 2: Land Research to collect the data necessary to establish fair market value for fractionated tracts that might be acquired.
Number 3: Land Valuation to determine the fair market value of tracts where the Program will offer to buy fractional interests.
Number 4: Land Acquisition to purchase interests in fractionated tracts valued in the land valuation phase that individuals would like to voluntarily sell. 
Landowners may can choose to sell all, some, or none of the fractionated interests in the purchase offer received during the Land Acquisition phase.
You should not wait until the Buy-Back Program begins implementation at a location where you own fractional interests to get more information.  
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center or visit a local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians to update contact information, ask questions about land or request assistance with purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources.
The tribe may have already assembled a team focused on landowner outreach and financial awareness. Often times, this is the best place to go for translation assistance and to gain an understanding of how the tribe intends to use consolidated land. The Call Center will be able to help identify those resources if they are available. 
If you are interested in potentially receiving and considering an offer if the Program comes to a location where you have land interests, you can register as a willing seller with the Call Center. This in no way commits you to sell your land – nor does it guarantee that you will receive an offer. It is simply the best way to ensure that the Program is aware of your interest and provides an opportunity for advance outreach and information to be shared at the earliest possible date. 
More information and detailed frequently asked questions are also available at the Program’s to help individuals gather more information to make informed decisions about their land. 
Thank you for your time and interest in the Buy-Back Program. Only by working together will we achieve success for generations to come. 

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