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Landowners on Crow Creek Sioux Reservation see $40M in Cobell buy-back offers

Filed Under: Cobell Lawsuit and Settlement | National | Politics
More on: crow creek sioux, doi, donald trump, land consolidation, michael connor, south dakota
     
   

A "Declaration of Allegiance to the Government of the United States" ceremony that was said to have taken place on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota in October 193. Photo from Wanamaker Collection / Mathers Museum of World Cultures

Landowners from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota are seeing nearly $40 million in offers as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The offers went out to nearly 6,000 owners of fractional interests on the reservation, the Interior Department announced on Wednesday. The deadline to accept is December 29.

“I am incredibly proud of the substantial and lasting steps this Program has taken toward fulfilling President Obama’s goal of strengthening and investing in tribal communities,” Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, the second-in-command at Interior, said in a press release. “Federal staff and tribal leaders must continue to work together to maximize this unique opportunity before us, and help ensure that landowners are provided all the information they need to make informed decisions about the use of their land.”

The $3.4 billion settlement to the Indian trust fund lawsuit set aside $1.9 billion for the buy-back program. Individual Indians are offered "fair market value" for their interests.

Participation is entirely voluntarily and any interests that are acquired are transferred to tribal governments.

As of November 4, nearly $910 million has been paid to more than 47,000 individual Indians. The equivalent of nearly 1.7 million acres has been transferred to tribes as a result.

With more than 58 percent of the fund spent so far, the program is due to run out of money in the middle of 2019, if the rate of sales continue. That's three years ahead of the 10-year deadline that was envisioned by the settlement.

The Obama administration has been studying ways to extend the effort. But a week before the presidential election, officials announced that they would leave any decisions in the hands of their successors.

"While we have conducted a preliminary analysis, we believe that this merits further discussions with the next Congress and the next administration, in consultation with Indian Country," Connor said on a November 4 conference call with reporters.

If the money indeed runs out without president-elect Donald Trump or Congress seeking to extend it, land consolidation would be dealt a serious setback. Up until the settlement -- which President Barack Obama announced less than 12 months after taking office -- such efforts were never seeded with more than $21 million a year.

That small amount was never enough to address fractionation, a situation that occurs as Indian landowners pass on smaller and smaller portions of their allotments to their descendants, officials acknowledged. And even the $1.9 billion isn't enough to fully address the issue across Indian Country, the department said in a status report last week.

"In 2022, the value of the remaining fractionated land will likely be several billion dollars, based on the estimated value of the projected acres remaining and calculated using an average price per acre per location," the report stated -- 2022 being the official end of the Cobell buy-back program, which only targets 105 reservations.

Interior Department Report:
2016 Status Report: Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (November 2016)

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