Federal Government Offers $270 Million for Fractionated Blackfeet Land
The federal government has sent offers to nearly 7,000 landowners on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation valued at more than $270 million as part of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.Landowners on and off the reservation will be receiving the offers in the coming days and will have until Jan. 17 to respond. Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes said the individual offers range from a few hundred dollars to more than $1 million.“This will have a tremendous impact on the community,” Barnes said.The offers to buy fractionated sections of land are part of a program established by the Department of Interior as part of the Elouise Cobell settlement. According to the federal agency, in 2012 there were more than 2.9 million fractional interests in Indian Country. Over the past century, land has become fractionated because the children of individual tribal owners have inherited undivided common ownership interests in the land. When those inheritors die, their children and family inherit the land and within a few generations dozens of people own a single piece of land. In one extreme instance, a single tract of land on South Dakota’s Crow Creek Reservation had more than 1,200 owners.The mismanagement of land and trust funds was at the center of Cobell’s class-action lawsuit against the federal government that was settled in 2009 for $3.4 billion; $1.4 billion of which went to the plaintiffs and the rest set aside to repurchase and de-fracture land.The Flathead Indian Reservation was one of the first to benefit from the program, and in 2014 and 2015 the federal government purchased $10.3 million worth of land in Flathead, Lake, Sanders and Missoula counties.In May, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Browning to announce that the program was being extended to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Over the summer, tribal and federal officials began evaluating the value of the fractured land. According to the Interior Department, there are more than 6,700 fractured tracts of land on the Blackfeet Reservation held by more than 8,100 people, totaling more than 812,000 acres, or about 60 percent of the reservation. The Blackfeet Reservation has the third highest amount of fractured land in the U.S.Barnes said at least five offers that were sent out on Nov. 28 were worth more than $1 million. Thirty percent of the individual offers were valued at more than $100,000 and another 30 percent were worth $1,000 or less.Barnes said if a landowner decides to accept the offer, they would be paid within 10 days. The land would then be handed over to the tribe within six months, Barnes said. At that point, the tribe would be able to lease the land for grazing or development. Other tribes have used the land to build community housing and water treatment plants.“We don’t know what parcels of land will be coming to the tribe and we don’t know the location or size of what we’ll be getting, but we’re hopeful we will be able to use some of it to benefit the tribal agricultural program,” he said.Barnes said as part of the program, the tribe is also offering financial management courses to its members.Although the federal government has spent over $1.9 billion on the buy-back program, federal officials said it is still not enough to purchase all of the fractured land across the country. In May, Jewell urged Congress to consider extending the program beyond 2022.Barnes echoed that hope.“This isn’t going to cure the entire problem of fractured land, but it’s going to help a lot,” he said. Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.