Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement

BIA aims to start Cobell land consolidation purchases this year





The Bureau of Indian Affairs hopes to start the land consolidation portion of the $3.4 billion Cobell trust fund settlement by the end of the year, Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said today.

The settlement provides $1.9 billion for the BIA to acquire fractionated interests from Indian beneficiaries. The land will then be returned to tribal governments.

"Our goal is to start making offers on fractionated land interests by the end of the year," Washburn, the head of the BIA, said on a conference call today.

The land consolidation program is entirely voluntary. To spur participation, the settlement authorizes up to $60 million in scholarships to be awarded to Indian students.

The scholarship fund will be seeded with money from the acquisition of fractionated interests, Washburn said. If the purchase price is less than $200, $10 will be contributed to the fund.

If the purchase price is between $200 and $500, $25 will go into the fund. For purchases greater than $500, 5 percent will be paid to the fund.

"Until we start purchasing land, there won't be any funding in the scholarship fund," Washburn noted.

As part of the scholarship program, the Interior Department is soliciting nominations for two members of a five-member board that will oversee the fund. Nominations are being accepted until May 20.

"The board is going to play a critical role in overseeing this scholarship fund," Solicitor Hilary Tompkins said on the conference call.

Two additional members have already been selected by the Cobell plaintiffs. They are Turk Cobell, the son of the late Elouise Cobell, and Alex Pearl, a law professor who is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

The fifth member will be selected by the American Indian College, the group that's been chosen to administer the scholarship fund.

"It leaves a great legacy in the aftermath of the Cobell litigation to provide a fund for next generation of Native American leadership," Tompkins said.

The settlement requires the BIA to spend the $1.9 billion in land consolidation funds within 10 years. The BIA gets to take an administrative fee of 15 percent, or $285 million.

Federal Register Notices:
Request for Nominations To Serve on Board of Trustees for the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund (April 18, 2013)
Request for Nominations to Serve on Board of Trustees for the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund (March 13, 2013)

Related Stories:
Kevin Washburn to host conference call on Cobell scholarships (04/18)
DOI seeks nominations for Cobell settlement scholarship board (03/13)
American Indian College Fund to administer Cobell scholarships (03/12)