Interior launches buy-back program as part of Cobell Settlement


The Interior Department has announced the initial framework of its  $1.9 billion Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations that will purchase fractional interests in American Indian trust lands from those who wish to sell, allowing tribal governments to use consolidated lands for community purposes.

In a Dec. 18 release, Interior said this program is part of the larger $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement, and that it will use the Buy-Back Program to purchase land at fair market value over the next 10 years. The acquired interests will remain in their existing trust or restricted statuses through transfer to tribes.

Currently, there are 2.9 million fractional interests in more than 92,000 tracts of land held in trust for American Indians. Fractioned interests make it hard to approval leases or otherwise use lands, often causing them to lie idle, said the statement.

The plan is hoped to stimulate economic development by simplifying the process to approve construction or usage of lands during the whole 10 year period, writes Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. "This initial plan will guide this landmark effort, and we will continually update the plan to reflect lessons learned and tribal input."

The Buy-Back Program's team, whose structure is outlined in a secretarial order, will consist of a group in the Office of the Secretary to provide management and performance guidance, and will feature members from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the funds will also contribute to an Indian Education Fund for American Indian and Alaska Native students, and that administrative costs must not exceed 15 percent of the fund.

Salazar also said Interior will host three consultation sessions in 2013 with tribal nations to discuss the initial implementation of the plan: Jan. 31 in Minneapolis, Minn.; Feb. 6 in Rapid City, SD; and Feb. 14 in Seattle, Wash.

Interior holds some 56 million acres in trust for American Indians, roughly 10 million of which is held for individuals while 46 million acres are held for tribes.

For more:
- read the announcement
- view the Secretarial Order
- visit the website for the Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations

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