Secretary Zinke Announces Funding of $60 Million for Cobell Education Scholarship Fund

Office of the Secretary

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

4/11/2017

Date: April 11, 2017
Contact: Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced the Department has made its final transfer to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, bringing the total amount to $60 million to be made available to help unlock the doors to advanced technical training and higher education for Native youth. 

The Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary and graduate education and training. It is funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) and authorized by the Cobell Trust Management Settlement.

“This scholarship program advances the Trump Administration's commitment to tribal sovereignty and self-determination, as well as the President's belief that ‘education is the civil rights issue of our time,’” Secretary Zinke said. “Investment in the next generation of American leaders will allow many of these young people to gain the valuable skills required for today’s competitive workforce and the knowledge and expertise needed to help their communities meet tomorrow’s challenges. Educational development and skills training are vital for sustaining the economic and political advancement of tribal nations and our nation as a whole.”

To date, over 2,000 scholarships totaling more than $5.25 million have been awarded to almost 1,000 Native American students for vocational, undergraduate, and graduate study. The scholarship awards are up to $5,000 per semester for vocational and undergraduate students and up to $10,000 per semester for graduate and doctoral students. The application deadline for the 2017/2018 Academic Year was March 31, 2017 and information regarding summer 2017 scholarship opportunities can be found via www.cobellscholar.org.

Under the terms of the Cobell Settlement, Interior made quarterly transfers to the Scholarship Fund up to $60 million. The latest transfer of $12.5 million allowed the Department to reach this milestone in its fourth year of implementation. The Scholarship Fund is overseen by the Cobell Board of Trustees and administered by Indigenous Education, Inc., a non-profit corporation expressly created to administer the scholarship program. 

Alex Pearl, chairman of the Cobell Board of Trustees, said: “We look forward to continuing our commitment to the legacy of Elouise Cobell and the vision she had for an independent, sustainable, and dynamic Indian Country. Our Board understands that the barriers to education for Indigenous students are significant and multi-faceted. The funds made possible by Ms. Cobell’s determined pursuit of justice for individual Indians provide an essential vehicle for improving the lives of young Native people and their communities. Our goal of creating a uniquely tuned and permanent scholarship program attentive to the needs and issues of Native students will remain our steadfast focus.”

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the $3.4 billion 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.

Since the Buy-Back Program began making offers in December 2013, more than $1.1 billion has been paid to landowners, nearly 680,000 fractional interests have been consolidated, and the equivalent of nearly 2.1 million acres of land has been transferred to tribal governments. Tribal ownership is now greater than 50 percent in more than 13,500 tracts of land. The amount Interior contributed to the Scholarship Fund each quarter was based on a Cobell settlement formula that set aside a certain amount of funding depending on the value of the fractionated interests sold. These contributions did not reduce the amount that an owner received. 

The Buy-Back Program recently released its annual Status Report, which highlights the steps taken to date to consolidate fractional interests.

Individual participation in the Buy-Back Program is voluntary. 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 ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about financial planning resources. More information and detailed frequently asked questions are available at https://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/FAQ.