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Interior Official: Land Consolidation Program Failing Native Americans, Taxpayers

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 23, 2017 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing on the Department of the Interior’s  (DOI) Cobell Land Consolidation Program. The program authorizes DOI to purchase highly fractionated allotments and consolidate them in tribal ownership. After an expenditure of over $1 billion, it remains unclear that the program has greatly reduced Indian land fractionation.  

Indian land fractionation has been an enormous burden for the Department, and it has denied thousands of individual Indians any economic benefit from their lands,” Subcommittee Chairman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) said.It’s fair to ask: what kind of progress has been made, and has the program been a success?

In many cases, a single tract of Indian land can be owned by dozens or hundreds of Indians. As generations of Indian owners die intestate, their heirs each own tiny, undivided interests often in multiple tracts. Consolidation into a single owner reduces the DOI’s burden in administering these lands and benefits Native Americans by increasing the potential for productively using these properties.

Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior Jason Cason testified that the Obama administration-run program “has not been successful in materially reducing fractional interests” despite spending $1.3 billion dollars to date.

It seems obvious to me that this is not something that we can just spend our way out of, but rather requires a careful approach and additional planning,Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) stated.  

Cason offered two options for the future of the program: either leaving the initial legislation in place and allowing the program to use the remaining funds to resolve a tiny portion of fractionation, or allow Interior to “leverage the reaming $586 million dollars to carefully target interests.” This would create a stream of revenue that could be put back into the program.

The program will end in 2022, but the funds will be depleted long before the sunset date. Without reform – administratively or legislatively – fractionation will continue to drain resources needed to meet DOI’s responsibilities to tribes across the country.

I view the Buy-Back Program as a once in a lifetime opportunity to meaningfully address fractional interests that plague tribal communities and their efforts towards sovereignty and self-determination,” Cason stated.[I]n my mind we are almost back where we started eight years later, just treading water.”

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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