MN Native News: The Land Buyback Program
MN Native News: The Land Buyback Program
Marie: This week on Minnesota Native News, Bois Forte becomes the 2nd Minnesota tribe to take part in the Land Buyback Program for Tribal Nations.
This is Minnesota Native News. I’m Marie Rock.
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The Land Buyback Program exists because of the largest class action suit in U.S. history. Thousands of people and 3 million acres of Indian land are affected - including parts of Fond du Lac and – now - Bois Forte. Laurie Stern reports.
Laurie: Thirty years ago a banker on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana found a problem with how the US government distributed money for Indian land it held in trust. The land had been allotted to individuals under the 1887 Dawes Act, and had been divided and subdivided through generations. Oil and mineral companies, ranchers and loggers were making money from the land. The U.S. was supposed to be paying Native landowners accordingly. But Blackfoot banker Elouise Cobell smelled a rat. Not only had the United States been underpaying Native landowners, it had NO accounting system to measure the value of Indian land. So, in 1996, together with the Native American Rights fund, Elouise Cobell sued the United States government.. This is Elouise Cobell testifying before Congress.
Mary Johnson a Navaho cannot replace the windows on her small home because she lacks the funds, yet there are five oil wells pumping for decades on her land….
The clip is from a documentary called 100 years.
America said we will manage those lands for you and we will lease them and give you that check for as long as the grass grows and the wind blows. That was our money and they were using it whatever way they wanted to.
Elouise Cobell fought in court for more than 20 years. Originally she asked for 180 billion dollars. As the appeals and hearings went on, she watched elders - who might have benefitted - become frail and passed on. Cobell decided to compromise. So in 2009, she settled for 3.44 billion dollars.
PK: A lot of people opposed the settlement because it really was pennies on the dollar.
Patrice Kunesh was involved in the Cobell case from the beginning when she was a young lawyer at the Native American Rights Fund. She worked for the Obama administration and now she’s director of the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
Kunesh is Lakota from the Standing Rock reservation, one of 13 kids. She knew about allotment checks.
PK My mother was always wringing her hands. Is it going to come? How much is it going to be? We’re not talking a lot of money. But when times were tight it was just enough to get us over.
The 2009 settlement is making things. things a little better. $60 million dollars was will go toward the Cobell scholarship Fund for Native kids to go to college. But the bulk of it – nearly 2 billion dollars has to has to be spent on the land buyback program. Under the buyback program, the government pays people fair market value for their allotment, and then turns that land over to the tribe. In Minnesota, more than a thousand people with land on Fond du Lac decided to sell . Three thousand more turned down the government’s offer. Now, with about two years and 300 million dollars left to disburse, Bois Forte is eligible to participate.
Roger Heger is the fiduciary agent in charge of the program in Minnesota.
they will send you an offer that says here’s what we’re willing to pay you if you’re willing to sell that fractionated interest.
For Patrice Kunesh’s family, it was a tough decision. Her mother held on to the land.
PK: it was very important that we kept our original tract and the connection to the land. Other members of our family didn’t have that emotional connection and decided it would be better to give it back to the tribe.
You don’t have to be a member of Bois Forte or Fond du Lac to be eligible. You just have to hold an allotment there. For more information and to see if you may be eligible, you should check the tribal websites.
Marie: You can also call the trust beneficiary center. That number is 1 888. 678. 6836. 1 888. 678.6836.
This week on Minnesota Native News, Bois Forte joins Fod du Lac as the second Minnesota tribe to participate in the Land Buyback Program for Tribal Nations.