Four Years Later, Tester Examines Impact of the Land Buy-Back Program

Vice-Chairman Questions DOI official, Tribal Leaders, and Trustees on the Success of Historic Land Consolidation Endeavor

(U.S. Senate)-Four years after the launch of the historic Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, Senator Jon Tester heard from tribal leaders who were impacted by the $1.9 billion initiative to restore fractionated land into tribal control.

During a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing, Tester heard testimony and questioned the Interior Department’s Deputy Secretary, as well as Montana Tribal Leaders Fort Peck Chairman Floyd Azure and Blackfeet Vice-Chairman Terry Tatsey on the impacts they have seen with the land buy-back program.

“Addressing the problems of land fractionation is an important step for Indian Country,” Tester said in the hearing. “By returning these lands to tribes, the Land Buy-Back program has helped tribal governments in a number of ways from addressing jurisdictional issues and protecting cultural and natural resources to developing key infrastructure.”

The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations was the result of a settlement from a class-action lawsuit brought to federal court by Elouise Cobell, a Montanan, an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Tribe, and recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

The land buy-back program aims to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at a fair market value, which has provided tribal governments greater control of their land.

Since the land buy-back program began making offers to tribal members in 2013, nearly $900 million has been paid to land owners for roughly 1.7 million acres that has been restored to tribal governments.

This month, the Interior Department sent out over $270 million in offers to Blackfeet tribal members who own fractionated land interests on the Blackfeet Reservation. Tribal members from the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Flathead, Fort Belknap, and Fort Peck Reservations have already received payouts from the land buy-back program.