Cherokees may wait 10 years for Cobell land buys
BY TESINA JACKSON Reporter TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizens who signed up for the Land Buy-Back Program under the $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement may be waiting up to 10 years before selling their fractionated lands. As part of the settlement that dealt with lost royalties, the Interior Department established the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, which Congress approved on Nov. 24, 2012. The program calls for a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund for resource mismanagement and consolidation of fractionated lands. “A fractionated track is a parcel of land owned by multiple owners or few (people) to many (people),” Steve Beleu, director of the U.S. Government Information Division at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, said. The money must be expended by Nov. 24, 2022, according to the settlement. The fractionation of Indian lands is a result of the General Allotment Act of 1887, or the Dawes Act, which allowed tribal lands to be allotted to individual tribal citizens in 80- or 160-acre parcels. The number of fractional land interests grew by 12.5 percent from 2007 to 2011. There are approximately 150 tribal nations and/or reservations with 2.9 million fractional land interests owned by more than 219,000 individuals that will participate in the Land Buy-Back Program, Beleu said. Ninety percent of the purchasable fractional interests are located within the top 40 of the 150 tribal nations and/or reservations that have purchasable fractional interests. The CN is ranked at 145. “The top 40 are the ones that have the highest percentage of highly fractionated land,” Beleu said. “The owners tend to be more willing to sell, and those owners tend to be older in age so they could actually personally benefit from the buy back.” Within the CN, there are only 135 fractionated tracts containing purchasable interests and no highly fractionated tracts. Sixty-six Cherokees who owned fractionated land are over the age of 65. The program seeks to support tribal sovereignty by providing individual American Indians opportunities to get cash payments for voluntarily transferring their fractional land interests. Upon transfer, the interests will be held in trust for the benefit of the tribe with jurisdiction over the lands. More than $1.7 billion of the $1.9 billion is expected to go to the top 40 tribes. About $130 million will go to the rest of the tribes not in the top 40. “Within years to come, the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) will be setting up pilot programs working with tribal governments and concentrate on buying back lands,” Beleu said. CN Communications said the BIA has not contacted the Nation as of April 30.
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