Interior Makes Largest Transfer to Date to Cobell Education Scholarship Fund


More than $12 million transferred as a result of Land Buy-Back Program

Press Release, U.S. Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of the Interior today announced it has transferred more than $12 million to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, bringing the total amount transferred so far to $17 million. Authorized by the historic Cobell Settlement, and funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), the Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance through scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary and graduate education and training.

“With every transfer to the Scholarship Fund, we are making valuable investments in the training and education that Native students need to succeed in today’s world,” said Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor. “This program is a lasting tribute to Elouise Cobell, whose vision, leadership and concern for tribal students and their families has created a living legacy for future generations of tribal leaders.”

“The Department is thrilled that the Cobell Scholarship Fund is growing quickly so that Native students can pursue their academic dreams to go to college or graduate school,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor of the Department of the Interior and one of the lead negotiators of the Cobell Settlement.  “The expertise, abilities and skills these students gain can help to advance self- determination and shape future leaders in Indian Country.”

The Scholarship Fund is administered by the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) located in Albuquerque, N.M. The five-member Cobell Board is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the activities of the fund’s administering organization. Interested applicants should consult the AIGC website at

The Cobell Scholarship Fund is overseen by the Cobell Board of Trustees.  Alex Pearl, the Chairman of the Cobell Board, said, “This is meant to be a perpetual fund so that Indian students will be able to attend college and receive Cobell Scholarship Funds long after we’re gone.  The transfer that the Interior Department is making today will nearly triple the size of the Scholarship Fund precisely when the Board is in the process of deciding what funds can be made available for scholarships for the upcoming academic year beginning this fall.”  Pearl went on to say, “The Board is now working with the American Indian Graduate Center to determine the eligibility criteria, but one thing is certain—as required by statute, Cobell Scholarship Funds will be available only to American Indian and Alaska Native students.”

“We at AIGC are eager to establish a working relationship with the Cobell Board of Trustees and to fund applicants for the Cobell Scholarship Program. We are hoping to begin funding with this fall’s term. The provision of a scholarship program in conjunction with the Cobell Settlement was an inspired idea, and we are pleased to have been selected to administer the program,” said Sam Deloria, Director of the American Indian Graduate Center.

Interior makes quarterly transfers to the Scholarship Fund as a result of Buy-Back Program sales, up to a total of $60 million. The amount contributed is based on a formula set forth in the Cobell Settlement that sets aside a certain amount of funding depending on the value of the fractionated interests sold. These contributions do not reduce the amount that an owner will receive for voluntarily consolidating their interests. Thus far the Buy-Back Program has paid more than $360 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of almost 570,000 acres of land to tribal governments

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. Consolidated interests are transferred to tribal government ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

Turk Cobell, the President of the Cobell Board, stated that “applications for scholarships for the fall semester will be made available shortly online through the American Indian Graduate Center.”

Buy-Back Program offers are currently pending for fractional interest owners at the Umatilla Indian Reservation (deadline: April 13), Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (deadline: April 20), and Rosebud Indian Reservation (deadline: May 16).

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 to update their contact information, ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about the financial implications of consolidating land. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at in order to make informed decisions about their land.

Lake Traverse Indian Reservation receives $63.5 million in fractionated land purchase offers

Participants in Voluntary Land Buy-Back Program Have 45 Days to Respond

Source: DOI Media Release
WASHINGTON – Building off of sustained momentum from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary Mike Connor today announced that purchase offers worth more than $63.5 million have been sent to nearly 2,800 landowners with fractional interests on the Lake Traverse Indian Reservation in South Dakota (homeland of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate). Interested sellers will have until November 24, 2014, to return accepted offers.

The tribe will host an outreach event on Wednesday, October 15 at the Tribal Elderly Center in Agency Village, S.D. The all-day event will feature speakers from the Buy-Back Program and staff available to help landowners with questions about their offer packages. Landowners can contact the tribe’s staff at: 605-698-8296 or 605-698-8203.

As part of President Obama’s pledge to help strengthen Native American communities, the Buy-Back Program has successfully concluded transactions worth more than $146.4 million and has restored the equivalent of more than 280,000 acres of land to tribal governments.

“The Buy-Back Program is a unique opportunity and I am encouraged by the growing interest we are seeing in the Program across Indian Country as well as the partnerships we are developing with tribal governments as implementation moves to each location,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “Payments through Program sales are already making a significant difference for individuals, families and their communities. We will continue to work closely with tribal representatives to ensure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity.”

The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within a 10-year period. Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.

Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members. For example, the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation recently announced that the tribe is embarking on a $9 million housing program, aided by the recent acquisition of land through the Buy-Back Program.

Sales of land interests will also result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This contribution is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.

There are almost 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests, spanning 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program. Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often very small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.

Offers are currently pending at a number of additional locations with deadlines approaching soon, including the Northern Cheyenne (Oct. 17), Flathead (Oct. 24), Umatilla (Oct. 31) and Crow (Nov. 21) Indian Reservations.

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at in order to make informed decisions about their land.

Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not impact a landowner’s eligibility to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group. Inquiries regarding Settlement payments should be directed to 800-961-6109.

Makah second tribe in Interior buy-back plan


By Joe Smillie Peninsula Daily News
Jan 11, 2014

NEAH BAY –– The U.S. Department of the Interior will soon offer to buy land from individual property owners on the Makah reservation under a new federal program aimed at helping tribes consolidate ownership.

The Makah reservation is the second in the nation to be part of Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

Over the next 10 years, Interior will use $1.9 billion to buy land once allotted to tribal members that has ownership that has become “fractionated” among heirs of the original owners — meaning some plots are owned by hundreds of people.

The land will then be put into a trust for the tribes.

Dale Denney, Realty officer for the Makah, said the tribe has been allocated $2.55 million to buy fractionated lots within the tribe’s 30,000-acre reservation.

The tribe now has 14 allotments it has appraised to buy under the program.

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, tribal members were given allotments of land by the federal government, Denney said.

As those original owners died, the land was often split among heirs who over time have taken ownership of mere fractions of property.

One particular piece of allotment land now is now owned by 353 owners, Denney said.

“We’re talking places where people own just a few square feet now,” Denney said.

Genevieve Giaccardo, tribal relations adviser for Interior, said the first purchase offers under the program were made late last month to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota.

“It’s exciting to see the numbers with the Makah and Pine Ridge and seeing how things are beginning to work out,” Giaccardo said.

“We have a lot of work to do and a lot of logistics to work out. But these tribes have done a great job of finding ways to make this work.”

Tribal and U.S. officials are hosting a pair of meetings in the Makah Marina conference room, 1321 Bayview Ave. in Neah Bay, on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday’s meeting runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday’s runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The program eventually will be expanded and offered to 150 tribes across the nation, including others on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Meetings to explain the program to tribes in Washington will be Thursday and Friday, Jan. 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Philip Starr Building at the Muckleshoot Wellness Center, 39015 172nd Ave. S.E. in Auburn.

Giaccardo said convoluted ownership complicates decisions about use of land and resources as thousands of owners have to be consulted before decisions can be made.

“This has all been going on for 125 years,” she said. “So there’s a lot of heirs to get in contact with. That’s where the tribes are going to have a lot of work to do.”

The buyback stems from the $3.4 billion class-action settlement in 2012 of a suit brought by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet woman who brought suit against the U.S. government for mismanaging royalties from oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on tribal lands.

The Makah previously received $25 million from that settlement.

Makah Tribal Chairman T.J. Greene testified to the U.S. Senate last month about the tribe’s buyback plans.

Greene said 1,158 letters were sent to owners of the most fractionated allotments to inquire about buying the land.

Through meetings with various interest groups, he said, the tribe decided to focus its purchase on lands that will provide opportunity through timber and other economic development, as well as trying to purchase sacred grounds at Tsooes, a coastal village south of Cape Flattery.

Greene said the 14 lots ready for the buyback were appraised at a total value of $1.5 million.

The tribe has another 12 or 13 allotments prioritized for appraisal.

Land Buy-Back Program: Strengthening our Nation-to-Nation Partnership

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The following is a blog posted to the White House website, and cross-posted from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Last year, the Department of the Interior established the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations to implement important land consolidation requirements set forth in the historic Cobell Settlement Agreement. That agreement provided for a copy.9 billion fund to consolidate lands that have become fractionated, over time, across Indian country. By establishing the Buy-Back Program, the Department made a commitment to work together – with tribes and individual Indian land owners alike – to address the negative impacts of land fractionation in Indian country.

RELATED: Cobell Land Consolidation Plan to Cost $285 Million for Interior Department to Run

Fractionation of ownership affects more than 93,500 land tracts on more than 150 Indian reservations. These tracts often have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of owners that must each be consulted before even basic decisions can be made about use of land and resources.

Over the next 10 years, the Buy-Back Program will make purchase offers to willing sellers in an effort to make land more usable and prevent further fractionation. By doing this, Interior will help expand tribal economic development opportunities across Indian country, and, in turn, restore tribal control over tribal lands and resources in order to build towards true tribal self-determination and ultimately strengthened tribal sovereignty.

In our first year, the Department has focused on establishing the building blocks of program success. Nation-to-Nation conversations have been critical to this development, and have helped us make significant policy decisions about the Program. This past month, we released an Updated Implementation Plan, which incorporates suggestions and responds to comments received through multiple tribal consultations and one-on-one meetings.

We have heard from tribal leaders that we must implement the Buy-Back Program in a fair and equitable manner, moving quickly to ensure that we reach as much of Indian country as possible. Additionally, we sought independent analysis from The Appraisal Foundation, the nation’s foremost authority on appraisal standards to ensure a high quality valuation process would be used.

Tribes also expressed the need for predictability and transparency on the timing of implementation efforts. In response, the Department expanded its implementation strategy by opening up a solicitation period through March 2014, during which tribes with jurisdiction over the most fractionated locations are invited to submit letters of interest or cooperative agreement applications for participation in the program. This solicitation puts much of the timing in the hands of tribal governments and will allow the program to move on a quicker timeline.

And, in a historic step this week, Interior announced that the very first purchase offers have been sent. After working closely with Oglala Sioux leadership, landowners on the Pine Ridge Reservation – one of the most fractionated locations in the United States – will be receiving purchase offers this week. Individuals with interests at the Makah Indian Reservation will receive offers as well.

RELATED: Oglala Sioux First Tribe to Reach Agreement of Fractionated Lands

We know the challenge ahead is mighty, but we are working hard to ensure that this incredible opportunity for Indian country is not wasted. Change will not be implemented overnight, but ultimately the Program will restore lands to tribes and place decision-making over these lands back into the rightful hands of tribal governments. Our Nation-to Nation partnerships have been critical to the work that has gotten us to today and we look forward to our continued work together.

Kevin K. Washburn is the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior and a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.



Interior Dept Rolls Out $1.9 Billion Cobell Settlement Land Buy-Back Program

Native News Network

WASHINGTON – Following extensive consultations with American Indian leaders, the Department of the Interior Tuesday, June 18, made a number of announcements related to the efforts underway for the purchase of fractional interests in American Indian trust lands from willing sellers.

In particular, the Department announced that it has launched efforts to establish cooperative agreements with several tribal nations to facilitate the purchase of individual interests in highly fractionated trust lands for the purpose of consolidating ownership of these acres for the beneficial use of tribal nations.

The Department has also established purchase ceilings to ensure that all qualifying tribes will have the opportunity to participate in the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. Additional incentives for individual owners to offer their fractionated shares for the benefit of tribal communities also were announced, including minimum payments and Indian scholarship funds.

As part of President Obama’s commitment to help strengthen Indian communities, the Land Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers, at fair market value, within a 10 year period.

“With a solid foundation built on government to government consultation, the Department is now prepared to begin working with tribal nations so we can proceed with initial offers by the end of this year,”

said David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Hayes, who chairs the oversight board created to ensure accountability within the Interior Department, emphasized that the goal of the Land Buy-Back Program is to unlock the benefit of fractionated lands for tribal communities.

“We need to be smart about managing the available resources of tribal communities and the federal government, while developing flexible processes for each cooperative agreement,”

he said.

As outlined in the Implementation Plan released in December 2012, Department officials have had extensive consultation with tribes across Indian country over the past several months to determine how to move forward with a process that provides an efficient and fair way for individual owners of fractionated interests to participate in the Land Buy-Back Program, maximizes the opportunity for tribal government involvement, and offers the greatest flexibility for each tribal nation to determine what is best for their community.

Today’s announcements are based on these consultations, which will continue to inform next steps. Department personnel have also been hard at work refining valuation methods, updating title systems, and staffing up appraisal teams to accommodate the significant interest in the program.

Pilot Efforts Underway

Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 92,000 (on 150 reservations) contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Land Buy-Back Program.

Approximately 90 percent of the fractionated lands available to purchase are in 40 of the 150 locations.

Following its consultations with tribes, the Department of the Interior has identified key criteria that will determine how and when tribal nations will be engaged over the next several years. The Land Buy-Back Program will move forward based on a number of factors, including the severity of fractionation, degree of ownership overlap between tracts, geographic location to maximize efficiency and resources, appraisal complexity, and readiness or availability of resources.

In particular, the Land Buy-Back Program will ensure that all types of tribal communities are participating in all phases of the program – including tribes that do not have large numbers of fractionated lands. Ensuring this type of tribal diversity in the Land Buy-Back Program was an important and frequently raised issue by tribal nations through consultation sessions, and it will be a key consideration in setting priorities.

Using these criteria, the Department will launch pilot efforts with as many as 10 reservations this year, with the opportunity to make adjustments for lessons learned for future implementation. Land research, valuation work, and outreach efforts are underway at several locations, including the Pine Ridge, Crow, Makah, and Sisseton-Wahpeton reservations.

Cooperative Agreement Development

As tribal communities are identified for implementation, the Department will enter into cooperative agreements that are flexible and responsive to the specific needs of the nation involved. Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the process, which will improve the program’s effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing administrative costs. Agreements will allow for resources to be provided to each tribal government to facilitate outreach and education, solicit interest from owners, and further identify tribal priorities.

“This is a program that will not be implemented overnight, but we will be thorough and tailor opportunities for the benefit of each nation,”

said Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

“We must have the flexibility to learn from each buy-back effort and provide transparency for each successive tribe.”

Establishment of Purchase Ceilings and Base Payments

Two key decisions flowing directly from the Department’s nation to nation consultations relate to purchase ceilings and base payments. To ensure that the Land Buy-Back Program will be implemented at as many locations as possible (including less fractionated locations), purchase ceilings will be used to protect against premature exhaustion of funds. Also, the Land Buy-Back Program will provide landowners with a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land, based on estimates for the time and effort required for individual land owners to proceed through the acquisition process and to facilitate sales.

In addition to base payments, the Department discussed the allocation of funds toward Indian educational scholarships as a further incentive for participation. Up to $60 million from sales will be designated for the Cobell Scholarship Fund for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The fund will be controlled by a board of trustees nominated by tribal governments and administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colorado with 20 percent allotted to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Transparency & Availability of Resources

The Department is committed to ongoing consultation with tribal nations and full transparency as it continues to implement the many steps associated with the Land Buy-Back Program, which had been referred to as the Cobell Trust Land Consolidation program.

In addition to future consultations, personnel will hold a workshop prior to remarks by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the upcoming National Congress of American Indian’s Mid-Year Conference later this month. The workshop will further discuss the development of cooperative agreements, the ongoing, independent review by the Appraisal Foundation of the Department’s appraisal process, and the pilot efforts and ramp up plans for the acquisition of land at initial locations.