Program History | Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations

The Buy-Back Program was established by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) on December 17, 2012 to implement the land consolidation provisions of the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement Agreement (Cobell Settlement or Settlement). The Settlement provided for a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund (Fund) to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country.

The 10-year period for the Program's implementation of land consolidation efforts came to an end November 24, 2022.

More information about the Cobell Settlement and the Program’s history is provided below.

Program Milestones 

2020 October 1 In a reorganization, the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration assumes the fiduciary functions previously managed by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians
2018 October 31 Program purchases achieve majority Tribal ownership in more than 15,000 tracts
2017 July 31 Interior announced revised strategy to maximize consolidation of fractional interests, including an updated schedule of locations and policies 
  May 23 Acting Deputy Secretary James E. Cason testifies on the status and future of the Program before the United States House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs
  March 24 Final quarterly transfer to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, which brings the total amount to $60 million
  January 5 Total of $1 billion in payments made to landowners with fractional interests
2016 December 7 United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on the progress of the Program
2015 July 8 Equivalent of more than 1 million acres of land restored in trust to Tribal nations
  June 25 Total of $500 million in payments made to landowners with fractional interests
2014 March 30 First quarterly transfer of nearly $580,000 to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund
2013 December 18 First offers mailed to landowners with interests at the Pine Ridge Reservation
  January - February Tribal consultations conducted (various locations)
2012 December 17 Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations established through Secretarial Order No. 3325
  November 24 Final approval of the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement after appeals exhausted to U.S. Supreme Court; 10-year period begins
2011 July - October Tribal consultations conducted (various locations)
2010 December 8 Claims Resolution Act of 2010 signed into law 
2009 December 7 Settlement Agreement signed

Cobell Settlement Background

The Cobell Settlement was reached in December 2009. The Settlement provided for a $1.9 billion Fund, which is available to the Secretary within a ten-year period to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land.

On December 8, 2010, President Obama signed the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. The Act specifically confirmed the Cobell Settlement and established the Fund upon final approval of the Settlement in November 2012. The Settlement Agreement and the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 provide that the Fund will be distributed in accordance with provisions of 25 U.S.C. §§ 2201 et seq.

Buy-Back Program Reporting

The Program regularly updates Tribes, landowners, and the public of its policies and progress. The links below will bring you to a press release summarizing the Program’s 2017 strategy review, previous years’ status reports, and the updated and initial implementation plans.

2017 Strategy Review

Following extensive analysis and feedback received from Tribal leaders and landowners, the Department of the Interior (The Department) announced a revised strategy for the consolidation of fractional land interests through the Buy-Back Program on July 31, 2017. The strategy includes a revised schedule for implementation, as well as several policy changes to better leverage Program resources, facilitate greater efficiencies, and increase opportunities to consolidate fractional interests.

Previous Years’ Status Reports

Program Status Reports summarize progress and expenditures as of the date indicated; identify lessons learned; and outline the Program’s economic impact and other benefits, including Tribal projects occurring on land consolidated through the Program.

Implementation Plans

An Initial Implementation Plan, released in December 2012, outlines the Buy-Back Program's initial approach to achieving successful land consolidation purchases. The Program released an Updated Implementation Plan in November 2013, which incorporated public comment, best practices, and lessons learned.

Past Presentations

The Department held several listening sessions with landowners, Tribal leaders, and Tribal communities to gather feedback on the progress of the Buy-Back Program.

The following documents from past listening sessions are historical documents.

2017 Listening Session

The Department held its 2017 Listening Session in Tulalip, WA. The purpose of the Listening Session was to gather feedback from Tribal communities that may inform the decisions of new Departmental leadership as they take a fresh look at Program strategies. The participation and engagement of Tribal nations and landowners has been critical to the success of the Program. In addition, attendees visited stations to ask questions and obtain tools like land reports in order to learn more about key aspects of the Program and make informed decisions.

2016 Listening Session

The Department held its 2016 Listening Session in Albuquerque, NM. The purpose of the session was to continue to hear directly from Tribal communities about how the Program can best be implemented across Indian Country. In addition, attendees visited different stations to ask questions and learn more about key aspects of the Program, including the appraisal and acquisition process. Landowners were able to obtain land reports and other tools to help them make informed decisions about land, including financial education and planning. 

2015 Listening Session

The Department held its 2015 Listening Session in Laveen, AZ. The purpose of the session was to meet with Tribal leaders and landowners to receive feedback on critical issues related to the Program as well as the 2014 Status Report.

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