Feds Buying Back Tribal Land To Put In Tribe's Trust

By Laurel Morales
November 20, 2014

The federal government so far has paid more than $225 million to American Indian landowners. And it has restored 375,000 acres to tribal governments.

As part of the 2012 Cobell settlement, the federal government set aside $1.9 billion to offer fair market value for land that’s been split among owners over successive generations since the 1880s. The Interior Department then puts the land in the tribe’s trust.

Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor says access to landowner information has been a challenge but the agency has improved outreach and of the offers made, 42 percent have been accepted. Connor says many people have a strong cultural or personal connection to their land.

“We all know this program developed in partnership with the Cobell plaintiffs is an exceptional and historic opportunity that cannot be taken for granted,” Connor said. “The last thing any of us want is to have return any of these funds to the U.S. Treasury at the end of the program in 2022.”

So far the Interior Department has made agreements with 12 tribes. It’s finalizing an agreement with the Navajo Nation and will be working with more Arizona tribes in the coming months.