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Ponca Tribe landowners see $7M in offers through Cobell program

Filed Under: Cobell Lawsuit and Settlement | National
More on: doi, land consolidation, michael connor, oklahoma, ponca
     
   

The Ponca Tribe in White Eagle, Oklahoma. Photo from Ponca Tribe

The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations has come to another Oklahoma tribe.

More than 1,500 landowners from the Ponca Tribe have received $7 million in offers for their fractional interests, the Interior Department announced on Thursday.

“This Program is about putting resources back into Indian Country and keeping land in trust,” Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, the second-in-command at the department, said in a press release. “The Buy-Back Program is an exceptional opportunity that cannot be taken for granted. We are committed to working with tribal leaders to ensure landowners are provided all the info they need to make decisions about the use of their land.”

Participation in the program is entirely voluntary and any interests that are acquired will be transferred to the Ponca Tribe. Landowners have until October 6 to accept the offers.

The Ponca Tribe is the second in Oklahoma to see offers from the program and the first to see a large dollar amount in offers. The offers that went out to the Quapaw Tribe in 2015 were very small in comparison -- nine landowners were paid about $28,000 for their interests, according to the department.

As of August 12, more than 101,000 individual Indians received over $2 billion in offers for their fractional interests. So far, more than 40,000 have accepted and the program has paid more than $841 million to acquire those lands.

The equivalent of 1.6 million acres has been transferred to tribes, according to the department.

The $3.4 billion settlement to the Indian trust fund lawsuit set aside $1.9 billion for the program. Based on the department's latest figures, about 44 percent of the funds have been spent on land purchases.

If the current rate of sales continues, the money will run out before the 10-year deadline anticipated by the settlement. The Obama administration is studying ways to continue the effort.

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