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Blackfeet Nation landowners see more than $273M in land offers

Filed Under: Cobell Lawsuit and Settlement | National
More on: barack obama, blackfeet, doi, elouise cobell, michael connor, montana, white house
     
   

Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed a cooperative agreement as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations on May 3, 2016. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior

Landowners on the Blackfeet Nation are seeing more than $273 million in offers as part of the The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The offers went out to nearly 7,000 landowners on the reservation in Montana. Willing sellers have until January 16, 2017, to accept.

“We are proud to work alongside the Blackfeet Nation to take these lasting and substantial steps 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. “We must continue our government-to-government collaboration to ensure that landowners have the information they need to take advantage of this historic opportunity.”

The offers come after Elouise Cobell, who was a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest-civilian honor. Her efforts to bring accountability to the Indian trust fund were recognized by President Barack Obama last Tuesday.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Elouise Cobell Presidential Medal of Freedom

"Her lifelong quest to address the mismanagement of American Indian lands, resources, and trust funds wasn't about special treatment, but the equal treatment at the heart of the American promise,' Obama said during the ceremony in which her son, Turk Cobell, accepted the award on his mother's behalf. "She fought for almost 15 years -- across three presidents, seven trials, 10 appearances before a federal appeals court."

Cobell's work led to a $3.4 billion settlement, of which $1.9 billion was set aside for the buy-back program. As part of the initiative, individual Indians are offered "fair market value" for their fractional land interests.

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

The effort has proven to be a success -- as of November 25, more than 47,800 individual Indians have been paid $915.5 million for their fractional interests. The equivalent of nearly 1.7 million acres has been transferred to tribes as a result.

But if the rate of sales continues at the current pace, the fund will run out in less than three years. It would be up to the administration of Republican president-elect Donald Trump and Congress to determine whether they want to continue the effort.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs is holding a hearing next Wednesday, December 7, to discuss the program.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Examining the Department of the Interior's Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, Four Years Later." (December 7, 2016)

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

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