More Than 500 Tribal Leaders, Individuals Attend Land Buy-Back Program 2016 Listening Session
Deadline Fast Approaching For Planning Initiative to Determine Next Implementation Schedule
WASHINGTON – The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) hosted more than 500 tribal leaders and landowners at its third Listening Session on March 3, 2016, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor, Special Trustee for American Indians Vince Logan, and Acting Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Larry Roberts heard directly from tribal communities about how the Program can best be implemented across Indian Country.
Thus far the Buy-Back Program has paid more than $736 million to individual landowners and has restored the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million equivalent acres of land to tribal governments.
"Without a doubt – it is our partnerships with tribes that have created the opportunities and momentum we are seeing," said John McClanahan, Buy-Back Program Manager. "As we have recognized from the beginning, tribal support and involvement is essential to the success of the Buy-Back Program. Our progress is the result of significant tribal input and participation. The Listening Session was another excellent opportunity to share information and hear directly from the tribal leaders and landowners."
Key topics raised or emphasized by participants included information sharing, coordination of Interior efforts, the voluntary nature of the Program, and the importance of consolidating and restoring tribal lands to protect tribal culture and traditional practices.
In addition, attendees visited different stations to ask questions and learn more about key aspects of the Program, including the appraisal and acquisition process. Landowners were able to obtain land reports and other tools to help them make informed decisions about land, including financial education and planning. With offers expected for landowners with fractional interests on Navajo Nation in the coming months, a detailed information session to provide specific information to potential landowners also took place.
As part of President Obama's commitment to help strengthen Native American communities, the Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests intrust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within 10 years. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
There are approximately 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests across Indian Country who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program.
The event gave the Program an opportunity to remind attendees of the upcoming deadline for its two-pronged Planning Initiative, which will help inform the next implementation schedule for 2017 and beyond. The first part seeks input from tribal governments who are interested in participating in the Program. Tribal governments not already scheduled for implementation are invited to formally indicate their interest in participating in the Program no later than March 11, 2016.
The second part is a nationwide recruitment drive to further identify and engage landowners who are interested in learning more about this opportunity. When the Buy-Back Program evaluates locations for implementation, one factor among others that is considered is the number of landowners at the location who have registered as willing sellers. While landowners can indicate their interest at any time, only registrations before March 11, 2016, will be used to determine the next implementation schedule.
Landowners are encouraged to visit or call the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) office nearest them or contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 to: (a) learn more about the Buy-Back Program and their fractional interests; (b) update their contact information, if necessary; and (c) register as a willing seller, if interested.
Registration in no way commits a landowner to sell – nor does it guarantee that a landowner will receive an offer – it is simply the best way to ensure the Program is aware of the desire to receive an offer and provides an opportunity for advance outreach and information to be shared with the landowner at the earliest possible time.
More information and detailed frequently asked questions are available at https://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/FAQ.
The Program is committed to ongoing engagement with tribal leaders and landowners. Anyone who was unable to attend the Listening Session is encouraged to submit written comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.