Program works to consolidate fractionated lands, strengthen tribal communities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: June 13, 2019
Contact: Treci Johnson
Window Rock, Navajo Nation. Photo credit: Carolyn Drouin.
WASHINGTON – Principal Deputy Special Trustee for American Indians Jerry Gidner announced today that the Department of the Interior has signed a cooperative agreement with the Navajo Nation to guide implementation of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations at the Navajo Nation.
The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers within a 10-year period set to expire in November 2022. To date, approximately $322 million remain. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership.
“This agreement demonstrates the Department’s commitment to partnering with and empowering tribal nations to address critically important issues," said Principal Deputy Special Trustee Gidner. “Fractionated land creates challenges for the exercise of tribal sovereignty, infrastructure projects, the preservation of cultural sites, and the economic development of tribal nations. Through this agreement, the Navajo Nation’s involvement will ensure tribal expertise guides outreach to benefit the greatest number of landowners at the largest reservation. We are grateful for the dedication of the Navajo Nation’s leadership and staff to finalize the agreement, and we look forward to further collaboration on the important work ahead.”
This is the second agreement of its kind signed between the Department and the Navajo Nation. During the initial implementation at the Navajo Nation, the Program sent offers to more than 25,000 landowners and consolidated more than 74,000 fractional interests and 155,000 equivalent acres.
“The Nez-Lizer Administration is very pleased and optimistic to see another phase of the federal Land Buy-Back Program implemented on the Navajo Nation to further consolidate fractionated lands, said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “We encourage our Diné people to become educated about the Program, so they can determine for themselves whether or not they want to participate. We are confident that we will once again see great benefits from this Program.”
To date, the Department has entered into agreements with 51 tribal nations to cooperatively implement the Buy-Back Program. The agreements outline coordinated strategies to facilitate education about the Program to landowners but are unique based on particular circumstances at each location.
Since the Program began making offers in December 2013, more than 858,000 fractional interests have been transferred to tribal governments, which represents 35 percent of the total fractional interests in 2013 at the 51 locations where Program implementation has occurred and the equivalent of nearly 2.5 million acres of land. As a result of the Buy-Back Program, tribal ownership now exceeds 50 percent in 16,694 more tracts of land (representing an increase of more than 136 percent for the locations where implementation has occurred), facilitating the exercise of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Returning fractionated lands to tribes in trust has the potential to improve tribal community resources by increasing home site locations, improving transportation routes, spurring economic development, easing approval for infrastructure and community projects, and preserving traditional cultural or ceremonial sites.
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 or visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians to ask questions about their land or purchase offers. More information and detailed frequently asked questions are available at /
The 2019 appropriations process realigned the Land Buy-Back Program from the Office of the Secretary to the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. The realignment of the Buy-Back Program institutionalizes best practices to fulfill the Department’s fiduciary duties. Further, it strengthens coordination efforts and opportunities to streamline processes.
# # #