Nearly 20 Tribal Nations Have Joined Program to Reduce Fractionation, Strengthen Tribal Sovereignty across Indian Country
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor announced today that the Department has entered a cooperative agreement with the Navajo Nation to further implement the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program). The agreement outlines the strategy and resources to be provided to the tribe's leadership to facilitate education about the Buy-Back Program and reach out to owners with fractionated interests in reservation land that can be consolidated for the benefit of the tribal community.
There are approximately 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests across Indian Country who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state. The Buy-Back Program facilitates the purchase of individual interests in fractionated trust lands and consolidates ownership for the tribe with jurisdiction.
“The vastness of the Navajo Nation and the number of native speakers make close coordination with the tribal government and staff especially important to ensure landowners have the information they need to make informed decisions about their land,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “The Buy-Back Program is an exceptional opportunity that cannot be taken for granted. We appreciate the dedication and hard work of the Navajo Nation leadership and staff in finalizing this agreement with us, and we look forward to continued collaboration as we work together on this unique initiative.”
Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the Buy-Back Program, including identifying acquisition priorities and leading owner outreach. The Department has entered into cooperative or other agreements with nearly 20 sovereign tribal nations. Each cooperative agreement between the Program and individual tribes is unique in time, scope and responsibilities based on the expressed interests of the tribe. More information and resources for tribal leaders are available here.
“The Navajo Nation is excited to implement the Land Buy-Back Program,” said Navajo President Ben Shelly. “We see this not only as an opportunity to consolidate tribal lands, but to strengthen relations with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Department of Interior. We must move fast with the one-year rollout period for the program.”
The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. It allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. Interested sellers receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) account, and consolidated interests are immediately transferred to tribal governments and stay in trust for uses benefiting the tribes and their members.
The Department has announced 42 locations where land consolidation activities such as planning, outreach, mapping, mineral evaluations, appraisals or acquisitions are expected to take place through the middle of 2017. These communities represent 83 percent of all outstanding fractional interests across Indian Country. Details are available in the Program's 2014 Status Report.
Since it began making offers in December 2013, the Program has paid nearly $370 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of more than 580,000 acres of land to tribal governments.
Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 to update their contact information, ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information here in order to make informed decisions about their land.