[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 41 (Tuesday, March 3, 2015)]
[Pages 11462-11463]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-04304]



Office of the Secretary

Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations under Cobell Settlement

AGENCY: Office of the Deputy Secretary, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Land Buy-Back Program (Program) for Tribal Nations will 
host a listening session on March 19, 2015, in Laveen, Arizona. The 
Program hopes to receive feedback from tribes and individuals on 
critical issues related to the Program as well as the 2014 Status 
Report: http://www.doi.gov/news/upload/Buy-BackProgramStatusReport-11-20-14-v4.pdf.

DATES: The listening session will take place on March 19, 2015, at the 
Vee Quiva Hotel, 15091 South Komatke Lane, Laveen, Arizona 85339. 
Written comments are also encouraged and must be received by April 20, 
2015, and may be emailed to [email protected].

For Further Information Contact and RSVP: Please RSVP and direct 
questions to Ms. Treci Johnson at [email protected] or (202) 


I. Background

    The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations is the Department of 
the Interior's (Department) collaborative effort with Indian Country to 
realize the historic opportunity afforded by the Cobell Settlement's 
$1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund (Consolidation Fund). The 
purpose of the Consolidation Fund is to compensate individuals who 
willingly choose to transfer fractional land interests to tribal 
nations for fair market value. The Program continues to actively engage 
tribes and individuals across Indian Country, as it has in 
consultations since 2011.
    The Department is currently implementing the Buy-Back Program at 
multiple locations across Indian Country. Thus far, the Program has 
made more than $780 million in offers to individual landowners and paid 
nearly $350 million directly to more than 20,000 individuals that 
decided to sell fractional interests. This has restored the equivalent 
of more than 541,000 acres to tribes. Our working relationships with 
tribes (17 cooperative agreements or other arrangements to date) and 
continued outreach to landowners are important elements of continued 

II. Listening Session

    The purpose of the upcoming listening session is to gather input 
from tribes in order for the Department to continue to refine its land 
consolidation processes and engage individual landowners who may have 
questions about the Program. The listening session will begin at 1 p.m. 
with opening remarks from Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor and other 
senior Departmental officials and will continue until 4 p.m. Tribal 
leaders and individual landowners will have an opportunity to present 

III. Seeking Tribal Input

    The Buy-Back Program is committed to continuous consultations 
throughout the life of the Program in compliance with the letter and 
spirit of Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and Coordination with 
Indian Tribal Governments) and Secretarial Order 3314 (Department of 
the Interior Policy on Consultation with Indian Tribes).
    At the beginning of 2013, Department officials conducted extensive 
tribal consultations on the following:
    (1) Developing an efficient, fair process for landowners of 
fractionated interests to participate in the Buy-Back Program;
    (2) Identifying and maximizing opportunities for tribal 
involvement; and
    (3) Offering tribes flexibility to execute Program requirements in 
the manner best suited for the unique needs of each community.
    Tribal input has been critical to making necessary enhancements to 
the Buy-Back Program. We are committed to learning from every sale at 
every location and making adjustments where necessary that are 
transparent and fair. For example, among adjustments influenced by 
tribal input, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/11/14/2014-27033/privacy-act-of-1974-as-amended-notice-to-amend-an-existing-system-of-records) and 
Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/01/08/2015-00038/privacy-act-of-1974-as-amended-notice-to-amend-an-existing-system-of-records) 
announced this past year that the agencies were updating their existing 
system of record notices (SORNs).
    The updated SORNs will make it easier to exchange information with 
tribal governments as they work to help implement land consolidation 
activities in cooperation with the program. These updates respond to 
comments during government-to-government consultations, presentations, 
and the Program's 2014 Listening Session, in which tribal 
representatives have expressed a need for greater and simpler access to 
landowner information to effectively conduct outreach and land 
consolidation activities for the Program.
    While the Department welcomes feedback related to any aspect of the 
Program, the following areas are of particular interest:
    Ideas for Improvement. The active participation of individual 
Indians, tribal leaders, and other interested parties is critical to 
success of the Program. The Department seeks comments on any ideas that 
will facilitate continued improvement of the Program.
    1. Implementation at Less-Fractionated Locations. While the 
implementation strategy keeps the Program focused on the most highly 
fractionated locations for the next few years, the Program has involved 
``less-fractionated locations'' as well. There are about 110 less 
fractionated locations that contain approximately 10 percent of the 
outstanding fractional interests. The Program continues to explore ways 
for additional less fractioned locations to participate in buy-back 
    The Program seeks comment on the most efficient and cost effective 
way to work with less-fractionated locations, including comment on 
specific steps the Program can take to facilitate earlier purchases at 
less fractionated locations.
    2. Outreach. Participation in the Buy-Back Program is voluntary. It 
is unclear how many of the approximately 245,000 individual owners will 
choose to sell their interests for conveyance to the Tribe. Currently, 
approximately 42% of Program offers to landowners are accepted on 
    The Program utilizes various outreach tools, including a 
comprehensive Web site to provide landowners, tribes, and the public 
with information about the

[[Page 11463]]

Program. The site contains a detailed list of frequently asked 
questions, outreach materials, instructions for completing the deed, 
cooperative agreement guidance and instructional documents, and Program 
presentations, among other items.
    The Program seeks comment on what, if any, additional information 
on the Program's Web site would be helpful in assisting individual 
landowners to reach informed decisions about the disposition of their 
fractional interests.
    The Program also seeks comments on what additional steps can be 
taken to ensure landowners have sufficient information and answers to 
their questions.
    3. Public Domain or ``Off-Reservation'' Lands. Under the 
Settlement, fractional interests acquired by the Program are to be 
immediately held in trust or restricted status for the recognized tribe 
that exercises jurisdiction over the land. When identifying the 
locations with fractional interests that may be consolidated, the 
Program excludes land area names that include the term ``public 
domain'' or ``off reservation'' because use of these terms indicate 
that there may be no recognized tribe that exercises jurisdiction over 
the land. The Program has encouraged feedback, however, on the list of 
locations in its 2012 and 2013 implementation plans. Since then, the 
Program has received feedback from several tribes suggesting that 
certain land areas should be included.
    The Program is now seeking general feedback on whether the Program 
should incorporate public domain or off reservation land areas into the 
Program, and if so, what criteria should be applied.
    4. Purchase Estimates. Consultations between Departmental, Program, 
and tribal leaders led to the policy decision to express purchase 
ceiling amounts within the Initial Implementation Plan (2012 Plan) and 
Updated Implementation Plan (2013 Plan). The underlying concept behind 
such purchase estimates is to approximate the potential portion of the 
Consolidation Fund available to pay owners who choose to sell 
fractional interests at a given location, based on a formula that 
considers a location's proportional share of fractionation across 
Indian Country.
    The Program's November 2014 Status Report expounds on the purchase 
estimate approach. Among other things, it noted that the Program was 
implementing several steps to ``make sure the Consolidation Fund is 
used before November 2022,'' including the creation of opportunities 
for willing sellers, leveraging efficient mass appraisal results, 
making a single wave of offers, and continually learning from 
experience and data. Moreover, the Status Report described a number of 
factors the Program will consider to determine how to best expend 
funds, such as:
    a. Level of interested or documented willing sellers;
    b. availability of valuation related-information;
    c. tribal readiness or interest;
    d. severity of fractionation;
    e. cost and time efficiency;
    f. promotion of tribal sovereignty and self-determination;
    g. economic and/or cultural value for the community, as evidenced 
by well-articulated tribal priorities; and
    h. loss of historical reservation land as a result of allotment.
    Such steps are intended to help the Program address instances where 
sales fall below estimates to ensure full use of the Consolidation Fund 
by November 2022. The Program seeks comment on these steps, including 
the most equitable, efficient, and cost effective way to utilize/
repurpose purchase estimate amounts remaining following active 
implementation at each individual location.
    5. Purchase Offer Package. The Program strives to make the offer 
package documents as clear and user friendly as possible. Following the 
initial purchase offers to landowners, the Bureau of Indian Affairs 
(BIA) made several changes to the Deed paperwork to reduce common 
errors by landowners and notaries and increase processing speed. The 
Program also clarified the Cover Letter and Instructions to address 
frequent questions and recurring errors.
    The Program seeks comment on what, if any, additional changes would 
assist in making offer package documents as clear and user friendly as 
    6. Reimbursement for Post-Settlement Purchases of Fractional 
Interests. The Buy-Back Program has received inquiries regarding, and 
requests from tribes for, reimbursement from the Land Consolidation 
Fund for tribal purchases of fractional interests.
    The Program seeks comment on what criteria it should apply in 
making reimbursement decisions.
    7. Structural Improvements. While the Program will not acquire 
structural improvements, which are non-trust property, the Program 
continues to work with its tribal and Federal partners to determine the 
feasibility of making offers on tracts with structures.
    The Program seeks comment on a recommended policy regarding 
acquiring interests in tracts with structural improvements, including 
instances in which the Program might choose to acquire interests.
    8. Whereabouts Unknown. Whereabouts unknown (WAU) is the term used 
to describe Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders without 
current address information on file with the Office of the Special 
Trustee for American Indians (OST). The Settlement provides for an 
outreach effort to locate landowners whose whereabouts are unknown as 
of the date of final approval of the Settlement. If those owners are 
not located after the Department undertakes the outreach effort and the 
passage of five years, the landowners shall be deemed to have consented 
to the conveyance of their fractional interest [Cobell Settlement 
Agreement at F (6); Claims Resolution Act of 2010 101(e) (5)]. Since 
the Program's inception, the focus has been locating WAU through 
outreach efforts so the individuals can receive and consider an offer.
    The Program has not exercised WAU purchases thus far and is seeking 
input from tribes and individuals on whether and how it should 
implement the provision.

IV. Additional Resources

    The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations 2014 Status Report and 
additional information about the Buy-Back Program is available at: 
http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram. In addition, landowners can contact 
their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call Interior's Trust 
Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836.

    Dated: February 23, 2015.
Michael L. Connor,
Deputy Secretary.
[FR Doc. 2015-04304 Filed 3-2-15; 8:45 am]