Interior Department Transfers Additional $4 Million to Cobell Education Scholarship Fund

Contributions from Land Buy-Back Program help fund opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native students.

1/6/2016
Last edited 1/6/2016

Date: January 6, 2016
Contact: Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov

WASHINGTON – With its newest contribution, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that it has transferred $4 million to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund (Scholarship Fund), bringing the total transferred funds to nearly $35 million. The Scholarship Fund -- funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) and authorized by the Cobell Settlement -- provides financial assistance through scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary and graduate education, and training. 

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. Consolidated interests are transferred to tribal government ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

To date, the Buy-Back Program has paid more than $730 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million acres of land to tribal governments. Interior makes quarterly transfers to the Scholarship Fund as a result of Program’s land sales, up to a total of $60 million. The amount contributed is based on a formula set forth in the Cobell Settlement that sets aside a certain amount of funding depending on the value of the fractionated interests sold. These contributions do not reduce the amount that an owner will receive. 

“The Interior Department is committed to taking meaningful steps to help fulfill the President’s goal of investing in the future of tribal nations," said Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, who negotiated the Settlement on behalf of the Department of the Interior. "These scholarship funds help us meet that commitment by putting a down payment on the future of Indian Country and investing in the success of Native youth.”

Alex Pearl, Chairman of the Cobell Board of Trustees, added: "The Cobell Board of Trustees is excited about the New Year and the opportunities that it brings to improve the efficiency, performance, and impact of the Cobell Scholarship Fund. Imperative to our success is the thoughtful partnership with Solicitor Tompkins and her staff. Our shared goal of designing the Cobell Scholarship Fund to address the unique obstacles for Native American and Alaskan Native students demands bold leadership and a commitment to the principles embodied by Elouise Cobell's life and work. We are confident now more than ever that Solicitor Tompkins and her staff understand these distinct issues and amazing opportunities for the Cobell Scholarship Fund."

The Cobell Board is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the activities of the fund’s administering organization. The Scholarship Fund, administered by the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) in New Mexico, has begun disbursing approximately $2.5 million in funds in its first round of awards. Scholarship recipients represent more than 80 Tribal Nations who will be attending more than 175 different academic institutions. More information can be found at aigcs.org.

“The Cobell Board of Trustees made a clear commitment to Native Americans’ higher education with $2 million in scholarship awards for higher education in the 2015/2016 academic year,” said Joan Currier, Interim CEO of American Indian Graduate Center. “We look forward to the next round of awarding in the New Year.”

Landowners who are interested in learning more about the Program are encouraged to attend the upcoming Listening Session on March 3, 2016, hosted by Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from 1:00-5:00 p.m. MT. In addition to the Listening Session, federal staff will be available from 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. to discuss the Program, answer landowner questions, provide information about financial education and appraisals, and register interested sellers. 

The Program recently launched a two-pronged Planning Initiative to help determine its next implementation schedule for 2017 and beyond. Eligible tribal governments not already scheduled for implementation and all landowners with fractional interests are invited to formally indicate their interest in participating in the Program no later than March 11, 2016.

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 or visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) to update their contact information, ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources. 

More information and detailed frequently asked questions are available at http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram to help individuals make informed decisions about their land.