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Department of Interior announces land buy-back program

Website is launched to help tribes successfully navigate through program

The United State Department of Interior is launching a website geared toward Native landowners.

The site is a one-stop-shop for those interested in information about the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

“We know that one of the keys to the success of this program will be timely and reliable information,” said Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “This website will be one important tool that we will use to communicate with tribes as we work collaboratively to implement a fair, effective and efficient process for individual owners of fractionated interests to participate in the Buy-Back Program."

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10 year period, according to a prepared release. The Buy-Back Program has the potential to unlock millions of acres of fractionated lands for the benefit of tribal communities.

The website, www.doi.gov/buybackprogram, includes information on the evaluation and sale process of the program; information on the Education Scholarship Fund for Natives; templates and guidance for the development of cooperative agreements provided to individual tribal governments which are tailored for each tribe;  

“We have already begun work with a diverse group of tribes and will be engaging with additional locations and tribes in the coming weeks and months,” said Washburn. “To ensure that the Buy-Back Program reaches as many locations as possible over the next 10 years, we are committed to using the funds wisely and have implemented flexible purchase ceilings on each reservation to avoid premature exhaustion of available funds.”

The Buy-Back Program will contribute up to $60 million from land sales to Education Scholarship Fund which will be controlled by a board of trustees nominated by tribal governments. The fund will be administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, with 20 percent allotted to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, NM.

Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes, according to a release. The Interior holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 92,000 (on approximately 150 reservations) contain fractional ownership interests subject to purchase by the Buy-Back Program. The Buy-Back Program plans to work with as many of the 150 tribes as possible over its 10-year period, according to the release. Land research, evaluation work, and outreach efforts are already underway at several locations. The Department’s goal is to make offers at one or more initial locations by the end of the year.