As court wrangling continues to hold up actual payouts from the historic Cobell settlement, the federal government last week moved forward with talks about how it will part of the money to buy up fractured pieces of land and give it to tribes.
Here’s the full story from Associated Press reporter Matt Volz:
HELENA – Federal officials Thursday released their proposal on how they plan to spend up to $1.9 billion to buy up Native American-owned fractionated lands and turn them over to tribes.
The program is a major part of the $3.4 billion settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by the late Elouise Cobell of Browning over Indian land royalties mismanaged by the government for more than a century.
The program aims to reduce the number of fractionated lands within 10 years by prioritizing tracts with the most individual owners, finding landowners willing to sell and targeting land that can be bought with little preparatory work and where controlling interest can be gained quickly. The program is voluntary for people willing to sell their individual allotments.
Land fractionation was caused by the 1887 Dawes Act, which split tribal lands into individual allotments often inherited by multiple heirs with each passing generation. In some places, individual allotments now have dozens to more than 1,000 individual owners.
The Interior Department has identified 88,638 fractionated land tracts owned by nearly 2.8 million people.
John Dossett, the general counsel for the Native Congress of American Indians, said the draft proposal appears to address most of the tribes’ major concerns. Of particular importance was that the tribes be involved in implementing and administering the land consolidation program through cooperative agreements, which are addressed in the draft plan.