Cobell Scholarships in the Works

iStockInterior transferred $5M to the Scholarship Fund for American Indian/Alaska Native students authorized by the Cobell settlement. So where are they?

iStock
Interior transferred $5M to the Scholarship Fund for American Indian/Alaska Native students authorized by the Cobell settlement. So where are they?

 

 

The U.S. Interior Department has transferred $5 million to the Scholarship Fund for American Indian/Alaska Native students authorized by the Cobell settlement.

So where are all the scholarships?

Turk Cobell and Alex Pearl, members of the Board of Trustees for the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, spoke with ICTMN about the status of the scholarship program recently.

Some of the $5 million will go directly to scholarships and some will be held back, Pearl said. “This is meant to be a perpetual fund so that Indian students can be going to college and receiving Cobell Scholarship Funds well after we’re long gone. It operates like any other Scholarship Funds where you restrict a portion of it so that the fund can continue for years and years and years.”

RELATED: Interior Ends Year with Total Transfer of $5M to Cobell Scholarship Fund

How much money will be available immediately for scholarships is something the American Indian Graduate Center and the trustees are still talking about, Pearl said.

The AIGC and the trustees are also working on the eligibility criteria for the scholarships. “Since we’re just sort of getting the wheels going on working with the American Indian Graduate Center [eligibility criteria are] something that we’re working with them on, just trying to figure out what makes sense, what’s feasible, what we need to do,” Pearl said.

One thing is certain: the scholarships will go only to AI/AN students. Pearl said, “That is set by statute; the settlement requires that the scholarship funds be used for American Indian/Alaska Native students.”

The American Indian Graduate Center is the “recipient organization” for the Scholarship Fund. Its duties include establishing the eligibility criteria for the scholarships as well as managing and administering the fund. A few months ago, the American Indian College Fund was selected to be the recipient organization, with the AIGC getting 20 percent of the funds to support graduate students, but that arrangement has been changed. Now the AIGC will administer the funds for both undergraduate and graduate students. Scholarships will also be available for certificate programs and vocational training.

A five-member Board of Trustees will oversee the fund and report on the AIGC’s work. Two of the board’s members were selected by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and two by the lead plaintiffs in the Cobellsuit.

Jewell appointed Jean O’Brien, Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Mississippi Band of the White Earth Ojibwa, of the University of Minnesota, a professor of history and chair of the University of Minnesota Department of American Indian Studies. Jewell’s other appointee is Pamela Agoyo, Kewa, Cochiti and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblos, director of American Indian Student Services and special assistant to the president for American Indian Affairs at the University of New Mexico.

The plaintiffs selected Turk Cobell, Blackfeet, Elouise Cobell’s son and founder and president of Native Hospitality Advisors, and Alex Pearl, Chickasaw, an assistant professor of law and associate director of the Center for Water Law and Policy at Texas Tech University School of Law. The AIGC will select the fifth member of the board.
The $3.4-billion Cobellsettlement, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, ended the 16-year lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet, against the U.S. government for mismanaging trust funds for AI/AN landowners.

As part of the settlement, copy.9 billion was set aside for the Lands Buy-Back Program for Indian Nations. Under the program, the federal government is buying back fractionated land interests from individual owners and putting them in the hands of tribal governments.

RELATED: Two Tribal Nations Sign Land Buy-Back Agreements

Contributions to the Scholarship Fund, which is intended to be an incentive for landowners to sell, are based on the payments made for fractionated land interests, according to a formula specified in the Cobellsettlement. If the amount of the land purchase is less than $200, copy0 will be paid to the holding fund; if it is between $200 and $500, the payment is $25, and if it is more than $500, five percent of the purchase price goes to the fund.

How much money will eventually end up in the scholarship fund is not yet known. “It depends on the type of sales that occur through the Land Buy-Back program and we won’t know how much that’s going to be until 10 years have passed since the settlement agreement,” Pearl said. The maximum amount that could go into the fund from the program is $60 million.

RELATED: ICTMN Exclusive: Interior’s Mike Connor Discusses Tribal Land Buy-Back Program

In addition, “the principal amount of any class member funds in an Individual Indian Money (IIM) account for which the whereabouts are unknown and left unclaimed for five years,” and “any leftover funds from the administration of the Settlement (after all payments under the Settlement are made)” could boost the fund later, according to the Department of Interior.

The AIGC and the board of trustees are focused on getting scholarships into the hands of students as quickly as possible. P. “Sam” Deloria, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is director of the AIGC. He said in an email: “At the moment, it is safe to say that we expect to be funding Cobell Scholarships for this fall.”

Pearl said: “We are really excited to start distributing some funds as quickly as is feasible and we’re excited about the potential for Native students to succeed in undergraduate and graduate programs.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/24/cobell-scholarships-works-159702

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 www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners 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.

Three More Tribal Nations Sign Agreements with Interior to Reduce Fractionation in Indian Country

Buy-Back Program to begin implementation at Crow Nation,
Fort Belknap, Fort Peck to facilitate purchases from individual landowners
 

 

Source: Program, Buy Back
WASHINGTON, DC – In the latest step in the successful implementation of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael Connor today announced that the Department has signed three additional agreements with tribal nations in Montana to facilitate the purchase of individual interests in fractionated trust lands and consolidate ownership for the tribes with jurisdiction. Agreements with Crow Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation detail what each tribal government will do to help implement the Buy Back Program and provide resources to facilitate outreach and education, and solicit interest from owners.

To date, the Buy Back Program has made nearly 33,000 purchase offers to owners of fractionated interests, successfully concluded transactions worth more than $72 million and restored the equivalent of more than 203,000 acres of land to tribal ownership. 
 
“President Obama has made clear his commitment to help strengthen Native American communities and I am proud that today we are continuing that momentum with the steady implementation of the Buy-Back Program,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “I want to thank the Crow Tribe, Fort Belknap Indian Community, and the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation for their partnership as we work together to ensure individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands for the benefit of each tribal nation.”
 
Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As lands are passed down through generations, they gain more owners. Many tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus, the lands often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose. There are more than 245,000 owners of 3 million fractionated interests, spanning approximately 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program.
 
“The Crow Tribe has been focused on addressing fractionated lands on the Crow Reservation for decades. We continue to be committed to restoring the tribal land base and are optimistic that the Cobell Land Buy-Back Program will provide critical funding towards these efforts,” saidChairman DarrinOld Coyote.“Execution of the cooperative agreement is the first important step to implement a tribal member prioritized approach to realize the benefits of the Program.”
 
The Department recently announced 21 locations where land consolidation activities such as planning, outreach, mapping, mineral evaluations, appraisals or acquisitions are expected to take place through the end of 2015. These communities represent more than half of all the fractional interests and unique owners across Indian Country.
 
“Fort Belknap would like to express their appreciation with the Land Buy-Back Agreement. We have had a professional working relationship with the Land Buy-Back team. Fort Belknap will be looking forward to increasing tribal land ownership and strengthening the economic environment for the tribe and tribal members. Consolidated tracts are a greater benefit to the overall land use and produce greater income,” said Councilman Curtis Horn, Fort Belknap Indian Community Tribal Land Chairman.
 
The Buy-Back Program is entering into cooperative agreements that are flexible and responsive to the specific needs and unique circumstances of each tribal government and location involved. The agreements showcase the active role that tribes can have, which is intended to improve the Program’s effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing administrative costs.
 
“It is my hope that this historic agreement will begin to address thegrowing problem of fractionalization of Indian land ownership on ourReservation by restoring our tribal land base, promoting Indianself-determination, strengthening and advancing the economic security of our tribal community, and fulfil the United States’ trustresponsibility to Indians,” said A.T.Stafne, Chairman of the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board. “This Agreement recognizes the Tribes’capacity, professionalism and familiarity with trust lands on FortPeck Reservation to efficiently implement land purchases.”
 
The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement. The Settlement provided $1.9 billion to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. The Buy-Back Program allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. Consolidated interests are immediately transferred to tribal governments and stay in trust for uses benefiting the tribes and their members.
 
In addition, sales will result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This donation is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.

Interior Announces First Transfer to Cobell Education Fund for Native Students

Christina RoseJazmine Good Iron (Standing Rock), left, and Adonica Little (Ogalala), right, sit in front of Oglala Lakota College in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Christina Rose
Jazmine Good Iron (Standing Rock), left, and Adonica Little (Ogalala), right, sit in front of Oglala Lakota College in Rapid City, South Dakota.

 

Vincent Schilling, ICTMN

 

On April 2 the Department of the Interior announced that quarterly transfers of nearly $580,000 are set to begin this week to the American Indian College Fund. The Cobell Education Fund is part of the historic Cobell Settlement fund of 2012, which will provide financial assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training.

“The Scholarship Fund is an important tool to help students across Indian country pursue higher education opportunities imperative to their success in the workplace and to the creation of the next generation of Indian leaders,” said Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins in a press release. Tompkins helped negotiate the Cobell Settlement on behalf of the Department of the Interior.

“While there was much debate in the settlement negotiations, there was no debate among the parties that we must do something to support Indian students in their aspirations and dreams,” she said.

According to the Interior, the scholarship fund is financed in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. The program was created by the Cobell Settlement, which provided copy.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. As an incentive to participate in the land consolidation program, a percentage of each purchase is donated to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund.

The American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colorado will be in charge of administering the scholarship fund monies to eligible students interested in enrolling or currently enrolled in tribal colleges, technical and vocational programs and undergraduate and graduate programs.

Eligible students must be enrolled in an accredited, non-profit, U.S. institution that awards graduating students either bachelor’s degrees or career and technical certificates, or students that are pursuing post-baccalaureate graduate or professional degree as a full-time degree-seeking student at an accredited institution in the U.S. Online degrees are covered as long as they meet the above requirements.

In accordance with the programs guidelines, 20 percent of the funds will be allocated to support graduate students through the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, the organization is currently only able to provide scholarships to 75 percent of its current applicants, so the disbursement is a welcomed asset.

“We are thrilled to be able to remember and implement the vision of Elouise Cobell so that the Cobell Scholarship Fund can lift up tribal students and their families, and also know that we have a long way to go,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network.

“Current U.S. Department of Education data shows that less than 13 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives earn a college degree compared to 28 percent of other racial groups,” she continued. “No doubt this is due to economic disparity, especially in reservation communities, as well as education disparity. We believe these scholarships will be a good start in providing Native people with a post-secondary education, which we see as the solution to ending poverty and its problems.

“We know there are many tribal students who have yet to access available scholarships so the need for scholarships will continue to rise.”

Crazy Bull also said that though the scholarships will help, the $580,000 is not a guaranteed amount per quarter as the Department of the Interior will contribute up to $60 million over the course of the Land Buy-Back Program. “Payments may vary each quarter depending on land sales and the value of those lands sold,” she said.

 

Currently the College Fund is still working to meet its goal of 60 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives having earned a higher education by 2025 and will still relentlessly continue to pursue fundraising goals.

“If we were to fully fund tribal college students, 20,000 students at an average cost of copy6,000 a year, we would need $32 million a year for scholarships,” Crazy Bull said. “There are at least another 160,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students attending college across the U.S. The vast majority of them have great need for financial support.

“Tribal people have a right to access education in whatever manner works for them and wherever they choose to go to school.”

“While the Cobell Scholarship Fund has criteria like all scholarships generally do, the funds will make a difference with access and we hope that the funds can serve as a resource for students to stay in school.  Our student persistence and graduation rates are a focus of tribal educators and we know one of the most significant barriers is adequate financial support,” Crazy Bull said.

Students interested in applying for the American Indian College Fund Scholarships should visit the College Fund website.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/04/06/interior-announces-first-transfer-cobell-education-fund-native-students-154337?page=0%2C2

 

Interior Announces More Than $100 Million in Purchase Offers to Nearly 16,000 Landowners with Fractionated Interests at Pine Ridge Reservation

Offers Aim to Consolidate Fractionated Lands for Tribal Development; Will Be Valid for 45 Days as Part of $1.9 Billion Land Buy-Back Program
 
Office of Public Affairs – Indian Affairs
Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs
U.S. Department of the Interior
WASHINGTON, DC – In another step to fulfill President Obama’s commitment to strengthen Indian communities, the U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has sent purchase offers to nearly 16,000 individual landowners with fractionated interests in parcels on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Totaling more than $100 million, these offers will provide landowners the opportunity to voluntarily sell their fractionated interests, which would be consolidated and held in trust for the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation.
 
“The success of the Buy-Back Program is vitally important to the future of Indian Country,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust will have enormous potential to unlock tribal community resources. While we know that it will be a challenge to reach all landowners, we are committed to exhausting all efforts to make sure that individuals are aware of this historic opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty by supporting the consolidation of tribal lands.”
 
The goal of the Buy-Back Program is to strengthen self-determination and self-governance for federally-recognized tribes. The Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. Individuals who choose to sell their interests will receive payments directly in their IIM accounts. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.
 
Land fractionation is a serious problem across Indian Country. As individually-owned lands are passed down through several generations, they gain more and more owners. Many of these tracts now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. For many of these owners with fractionated interests, the land has very little practical value. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus on the use of these lands, the parcels often lie idle and cannot be used for any beneficial purpose.
 
The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the most highly-fractionated land ownership locations in Indian Country. The vast majority of landowners with purchasable interests have received offers– and have been located in 46 states across the country.
 
Interior has worked cooperatively with the Oglala Sioux Tribe over the past several months to conduct outreach to educate landowners about this unique opportunity, answer questions and help individuals make a timely decision about their land. Many owners have already been paid in response to offers delivered in December 2013.
 
Early purchases from willing sellers at Pine Ridge have resulted in the consolidation of thousands of acres of land for the tribe and in payments to landowners exceeding $10 million. While the amounts offered to individuals have varied, some owners have received more than $100,000 for their interests. On average, payments to individuals have been made within seven days after Interior received a complete, accepted offer package.
 
Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Pine Ridge by May 2, 2014. 
 
For information about outreach events at Pine Ridge where landowners can gather information in order to make informed decisions about their land, contact the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Buy-Back Program at 605-867-2610.
 
Landowners can contact their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. More information is also available at:http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners.
 
Sellers receive fair market value for their land, in addition to a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. All sales will also trigger contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. Up to $60 million will go to this fund to provide scholarships to Native American students. These funds are in addition to purchase amounts paid to individual sellers, so contributions will not reduce the amount paid to landowners for their interests. The Scholarship Fund will be governed by a board of trustees and administered by the American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colo., with 20% going to the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
 
Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust or restricted status for American Indians. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 93,500 – on nearly 150 reservations – contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program. There are more than 245,000 landowners, holding more than 3 million fractionated interests in parcels, eligible to participate in the Program. 
 
Individual participation is voluntary. A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not jeopardize a landowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group.
 

Government Owes 30,000 Indians Royalties for Land but Can’t Find Them

 

Launch media viewer“A lot of people out here don’t even know that they have an allotment,” said Ervin Chavez, one of the settlement recipients. Paul McPherson for The New York Times


Launch media viewer
“A lot of people out here don’t even know that they have an allotment,” said Ervin Chavez, one of the settlement recipients. Paul McPherson for The New York Times

By DAN FROSCHJAN. 9, 2014

 

NYTimes.com

 

DENVER — Ervin Chavez remembers hearing talk around the Navajo reservation when he was young of money owed to American Indian families by the federal government for land debts.

Now 60, Mr. Chavez is one of the recipients of a $3.4 billion settlement that is being paid to Indians across the West, over royalties for land that was held in trust by the government and never reimbursed in full.

But as the payments are being made, more than 100 years after the trust program began, tens of thousands of Indians who are owed money cannot be located.

For months now, lawyers, specialized settlement administrators and volunteers like Mr. Chavez have fanned out across reservations, trying to track down those who are owed money.

“A lot of people out here don’t even know that they have an allotment,” said Mr. Chavez, who lives on the Navajo reservation’s edge in New Mexico. “It was something their grandparents or parents had always taken care of, and they had no idea they had ownership of land.”

About half a million Indians are eligible for payments, which vary in amount from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much income their land generated. More than 30,000 tribal members have not yet been located. Some may have moved or died or are unaware they are eligible. The government has simply lost track of others.

All are owed at least $800, and in many cases, thousands more. The total owed to missing beneficiaries is approximately $32 million, according to Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, a law firm that worked on the settlement and is involved in locating tribal members.

David Smith, a lawyer with the firm, said the large number of missing beneficiaries illustrated how the Indian land trust program, administered by the Interior Department, was mishandled.

“Historically, there is no question that the government mismanaged these accounts and should have known where these people were,” Mr. Smith said.

“Individual Indians are sometimes some of the poorest people in this country,” he said. “The absence of that money has caused significant hardship.”

The dispute over the trust program dates to 1887, when Congress carved tribal lands, mostly across the West, into small plots, and assigned them to individual Indians. The land was leased for grazing, mining and other uses, and royalties were supposed to be paid into accounts set up for tribal members.

But a 1996 lawsuit filed against the Interior Department by Elouise Cobell, a Native American businesswoman from Montana, accused the government of mismanaging the royalties through poor accounting practices.

In 2009, the Cobell settlement, as it has become known, was reached, and it was eventually approved by Congress and President Obama.

Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior at the time, hailed the settlement as a milestone for Indians, stating that it “honorably and responsibly turns the page on an unfortunate chapter in the department’s history.”

Since last year, when the first checks were distributed, 293,000 tribal members have received at least a portion of what they are owed. A second payment is expected to be made early this year.

The Interior Department initially identified 65,000 beneficiaries whose whereabouts were unknown, prompting a sweeping effort to find them.

Public service announcements have been broadcast on local television and radio stations, and reservation post offices peppered with notices. Dozens of public meetings have been held across tribal lands. Interior Department employees have set up information booths at powwows and other gatherings. Tribal governments have also been involved, poring over membership rolls.

So far, about half of the missing beneficiaries have been found, according to the Garden City Group, a firm appointed by a federal judge in the case to administer the settlement payments.

Many were surprisingly easy to locate, Mr. Smith said. Some were even federal employees or tribal officials.

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But rural life on sprawling reservations has complicated outreach efforts.

The Garden City Group said one member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma is owed about $121,000. A member of the Quechan Tribe at the Fort Yuma Reservation in California is due more than $81,000.

“These are folks who have not been able to be found by the government for a long, long time,” said Jennifer Keough, Garden City’s chief operating officer. “They live in very far-reaching places.”

Michele Singer, principal deputy of the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, part of the Interior Department, said her office was committed to reaching recipients of the settlement, and responded to an “overwhelming” number of requests for information.

For Mr. Chavez, the need to find those who are owed money is paramount.

“This is money that should be rightfully paid to the landowners,” he said. “It is something that has been going on for many, many years.”

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.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/12/21/land-buy-back-program-strengthening-our-nation-nation-partnership-152818

Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets hearing on land buyback

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Source: Indianz.com

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The Cobell settlement provided $1.9 billion for Indian landowners who want to sell their fractionated interests. The program is entirely voluntary.

The Obama administration initially planned to make the first purchases by the end of this year. That doesn’t appear to be happening as the Interior Department recently said it would expand outreach efforts through March 2014.

“This is a major step forward toward strengthening tribal sovereignty by supporting consolidation of tribal homelands,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a press release last month. “We are moving quickly to establish individualized cooperative agreements, which address the specific needs of each tribe and provide resources for tribal communities to implement the program. Although the task ahead is challenging, we have been given a historic opportunity to work together with Indian Country to meet this challenge.”

The Indian Land Consolidation Act requires DOI to pay “fair market value” for the fractionated interests. Once they are acquired, the land will placed in trust for tribes.

Wednesday’s hearing takes place at 2:30pm in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. It coincides with a nomination hearing for the Special Trustee for American Indians.

Committee Notice:
OVERSIGHT HEARING to receive testimony on “Implementation of the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program.” (December 11, 2013)

Amendment makes it easier to process Cobell claims

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

FARMINGTON, July 25, 2013

Navajo allottees in New Mexico can now submit their Bureau of Indian Affairs probate document or state-issued small estate affidavit as a way to receive trust settlement claims from the class action suit Cobell vs. Salazar.

On July 16, Richard Levy, who was appointed by Judge Thomas F. Hogan as special master overseeing the Cobell payments, made an amendment to the class action suit, which had been in litigation between Elouise Cobell and the federal government for years.

Cobell (Blackfeet) had filed the largest class action suit against the federal government, on behalf of 500,000 holders of individual Indian trust accounts, for mismanaging and failing to account for billions of dollars in Indian assets it held in trust over the last century.

In 2010, the federal government approved a settlement worth $3.4 billion for the trust case, with the money being divvied up to compensate individual account holders, buy back lands and restore them back to tribal nations, and set up a $60 million scholarship fund.

Levy’s July 16 amendment allows for the BIA probate and small estate affidavit forms to serve as conduits to expedite payments to beneficiaries, both Individual Indian Money class account holders and trust administration class holders of the suit.

“This should help,” said David Smith, attorney with the Cobell class action suit, in a July 18 interview with the Navajo Times at the Farmington Civic Center.

Smith, along with Garden City Group CEO Jennifer Keough and Ervin Chavez, president of the association of Navajo allottees known as Shi Shi Keyah, saw more than 800 people turn out for meetings in Twin Lakes and Farmington last week. The meetings were a chance for Navajo allottees to hear updates on the Cobell case and the status of payments from the Garden City Group, the firm charged with administering settlement claims for the 500,000 Native American allottees.

Initially, the court had only allowed state and tribal probate forms to be used for allotment settlement claims, which only processed about 88 percent of them, Chavez said.

Chavez, who filed a friend of the court brief in the Cobell case on behalf of Navajo allottees, said that Levy’s amendment only helps allottees, most of whom already have the BIA probate documents in hand to process for their claims.

“The judge accepted that amendment to the settlement and that’s going to help a lot of families get money from the settlement,” he said.

With the special master’s amendment, Smith is hoping the 7,409 Navajo people whose whereabouts are unknown to the BIA get processed for payment. It’s also a way for heirs to process through the probate system to acquire payments of their deceased relatives.

One of the 800 people to show up at the GCG meeting on July 18 was 31-year-old Tim Beyale of Nageezi, N.M. He has allotments near Nageezi, N.M and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Beyale didn’t know if it was worth pursuing his claim through the Garden City Group, mostly because the $1,000 payment from his late father’s allotment would be split among his siblings and a stepmother he learned about at the time of his father’s death. The payment from his own allotment, he said, added up to a “Chiclet” amount.

The Garden City Group was on hand with computer booths and staff helping Navajo allottees like Beyale process their claims. Booths were also set up at the Twin Lakes Chapter meeting on July 17 for allottees from that region of the reservation.

For LaVone Royston, the amendment allows for her to fill out a small estate affidavit to expedite payments from her late mother’s allotments as well as mineral payments from oil companies that drill on the allotments.

“Her estate is still going through the probate process,” Royston said, which is due in part to the original terms of the Cobell settlement.

Royston, who is an accountant, attended the meeting in Farmington to also find out why the documents her mother used to receive from the oil companies ceased coming when she died in 2011.

“Since she passed away, I can’t get anything,” she said.

What Royston did learn, however, from GCG is that she can’t have access to her mom’s financial records because the land acquisition is still in probate and a federal privacy act prevents heirs from accessing that information until they get the probate document.

According to Chavez, the Navajo Area BIA office told allottees in Twin Lakes they were backlogged with probate cases for the next 13 years. Crownpoint District Judge Irene Toledo also attended the meeting in Twin Lakes to get clarity on the settlement and reportedly told Chavez, Smith and GCG officials most of her cases are tribal probate ones.

But with the option of filing a small estate affidavit with a New Mexico county, Royston is hopeful to process through the probate system more quickly.

“I am going to file,” she said. “I can do it a lot faster and don’t have to wait for a BIA hearing.”

The first round of payments was distributed in 2012 to Individual Indian Money Account holders, who held an account from October 25, 1994 to Sept. 30, 2009. These beneficiaries are also known as individuals of the historical accounting portion of the settlement. They each received a $1,000 payment.

Smith anticipates the second round of payments to be released this fall to those allottees who didn’t process through during the first round of payments. These allottees are known as the “trust administration” class, with an open account from 1985 to Sept. 30, 2009. The second round of payments will be no less than $800 for some allotees, Smith said.

Delores Hesuse, on behalf of her late father, Henry Hesuse, who founded the Shi Shi Keyah group, said she was glad that Judge Hogan agreed to the amendment in the suit.

From her experience and what she’s seen with other allottees, they would spend over a month within the legal system to get their land probated with the original terms of the case.

“I finally got what the Garden City Group and Cobell lawyers were saying,” she said. “Everybody was lost within our system. They only knew of the federal probate.”

Information: contact the Garden City Group at 888-404-8013 or visit www.indiantrust.com.

Contact Alastair L. Bitsoi at 928-871-1141 or by email at abitsoi@navajotimes.com.

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.