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Bureau of Indian Affairs transfers $14M in land proceeds to tribes

Filed Under: Cobell Lawsuit and Settlement | National | Trust
More on: bia, doi, donald trump, ilca, larry roberts, michael connor
     
   

The Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. Photo by Mr.TinDC

The federal government is returning $14 million in proceeds to tribes that participated in early land consolidation efforts.

Using federal funds, the Bureau of Indian Affairs acquired fractional interests from individual Indians. The eventual goal was to transfer the land back to tribes.

But a quirk in the Indian Land Consolidation Act often kept those interests in limbo, sometimes for years. The law required the BIA to place liens on the land, which couldn't be lifted until the land generated enough proceeds to pay for the acquisition.

"Congress included the liens in ILCA so that ILCA would be self-funding," the Fredericks Peebles & Morgan law firm said in describing the program.

But Indian Country quickly discovered that "self-funding" didn't work out. The liens prevented tribes from consolidating their land bases, which was the exact opposite of what was intended by ILCA.

The Interior Department, however, has since determined that it can lift the liens. As a result, 20 tribes that participated in the program will be able to acquire the $14 million in proceeds that were generated over the years.

“Our action today is a result of our engagement and meaningful consultation with tribal leadership, respecting their judgement that waiver of ILCA liens and return of lien proceeds will spur economic development within their territories and enable them to restore tribal homelands,” Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, the second-in-command at Interior, said in a press release on Thursday. “Our trust and treaty responsibilities include ensuring that federal programs are tailored to work effectively and efficiently for Indian country. Tribal nations spoke clearly about the benefits of waiving ILCA liens and their effective and efficient ability to reacquire tribal homelands from willing sellers.”

"Tribal nations have repeatedly proven that if an administration works with them, tribal solutions can ameliorate the impacts of now repudiated policies that sought to end tribal culture and communities," added Larry Roberts, the de facto leader of the BIA. "Our action today is another example of tribes determining what is best for their communities.”

The liens were a major issue after the Obama administration settled the Cobell trust fund lawsuit. The settlement included $1.9 billion for land consolidation but tribes were worried that the effort would be hobbled if the BIA continued to follow the ILCA provision.

In August 2012, the department concluded that the lien provision does not apply to the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Offers started going out a year later and the program has been a success, according to Interior.

As of November 10, individual Indians have received more than $911.8 million for their fractional interests. The equivalent of nearly 1.7 million acres has been restored to tribal ownership as a result.

The fund is due to run out of money in less than three years if the rate of acquisitions continues at the current pace. Decisions about the future of the effort are being left in the hands of Congress and the incoming administration of Republican president-elect Donald Trump.

The 20 tribes that will receive the $14 million in ILCA proceeds follow:
• Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians of the Bad River Reservation, Wisconsin
• Lac Courte Orielles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin
• Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of the Lac du Flambeau Reservation of Wisconsin
• Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin
• Keeewenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan
• Bois Forte Band (Nett Lake)
• Fond du Lac Band
• Grand Portage Band
• Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin
• Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota
• Oglala Sioux Tribe
• Rosebud Sioux Tribe of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
• Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, South Dakota
• Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska
• Crow Tribe of Montana
• Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation
• Navajo Nation, Arizona, New Mexico & Utah
• Gila River Indian Community of the Gila River Indian Reservation, Arizona
• Quinault Indian Nation
• Quapaw Tribe of Indians

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

Interior Department Solicitor Opinion:
Applicability of the Indian Land Consolidation Act's Lien Provisions to the Cobell Settlement (August 2012)

Related Stories:
Landowners on Crow Creek Sioux Reservation see $40M in Cobell buy-back offers (11/09)
Interior Department highlights achievements of Cobell buy-back program (11/01)
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Fond du Lac Band reports success with land-buy back program (09/09)
Three more tribes enter into Cobell Land Buy-Back agreements (9/8)
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Michael Connor: Making strides with Cobell land buy-back program (12/04)
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