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Cobell Land Buy-Back

The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations was established as a result of the Cobell Settlement Agreement and the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, which provided for a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund (“Fund”) to consolidate fractional land interests across Indian Country. As of July 29, 2019, there was approximately $299 million of the $1.9 billion remaining. The Program must abide by the terms of the Settlement.

Cobell Offer Deadline is November 26th!

See the links above for Land Buy-Back Events, Tax Information, and Videos. Check the tabs below for basic information.

Cobell Land Buy-Back FAQ

Informing Indian Land Owners on the Program

Understanding Appraisals and Valuation Process


The General Allotment Act ("Dawes Act")

Approved on February 8, 1887, "An Act to Provide for the Allotment of Lands in Severalty to Indians on the Various Reservations," known as the Dawes Act, emphasized severalty, the treatment of Native Americans as individuals rather than as members of tribes.

Federal Indian policy during the period from 1870 to 1900 marked a departure from earlier policies that were dominated by removal, treaties, reservations, and even war. The new policy focused specifically on breaking up reservations by granting land allotments to individual Native Americans. Very sincere individuals reasoned that if a person adopted white clothing and ways, and was responsible for his own farm, he would gradually drop his Indian-ness and be assimilated into the population. It would then no longer be necessary for the government to oversee Indian welfare in the paternalistic way it had been obligated to do, or provide meager annuities that seemed to keep the Indian in a subservient and poverty-stricken position.

On February 8, 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act, named for its author, Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts. Also known as the General Allotment Act, the law allowed for the President to break up reservation land, which was held in common by the members of a tribe, into small allotments to be parceled out to individuals. Thus, Native Americans registering on a tribal "roll" were granted allotments of reservation land. “To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section; To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and To each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section…”

Section 8 of the act specified groups that were to be exempt from the law. It stated that "the provisions of this act shall not extend to the territory occupied by the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and Osage, Miamies and Peorias, and Sacs and Foxes, in the Indian Territory, nor to any of the reservations of the Seneca Nation of New York Indians in the State of New York, nor to that strip of territory in the State of Nebraska adjoining the Sioux Nation on the south."

Subsequent events, however, extended the act's provisions to these groups as well. In 1893 President Grover Cleveland appointed the Dawes Commission to negotiate with the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, who were known as the Five Civilized Tribes. As a result of these negotiations, several acts were passed that allotted a share of common property to members of the Five Civilized Tribes in exchange for abolishing their tribal governments and recognizing state and Federal laws. In order to receive the allotted land, members were to enroll with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Once enrolled, the individual's name went on the "Dawes rolls." This process assisted the BIA and the Secretary of the Interior in determining the eligibility of individual members for land distribution.

The purpose of the Dawes Act and the subsequent acts that extended its initial provisions was purportedly to protect Indian property rights, particularly during the land rushes of the 1890s, but in many instances the results were vastly different. The land allotted to the Indians included desert or near-desert lands unsuitable for farming. In addition, the techniques of self-sufficient farming were much different from their tribal way of life. Many Indians did not want to take up agriculture, and those who did want to farm could not afford the tools, animals, seed, and other supplies necessary to get started. There were also problems with inheritance. Often young children inherited allotments that they could not farm because they had been sent away to boarding schools. Multiple heirs also caused a problem; when several people inherited an allotment, the size of the holdings became too small for efficient farming.

The Secretary of the Interior established the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations to implement the land consolidation portion of the settlement. In consultation and cooperation with tribes, the Program seeks to reduce historic fractionation through this unique opportunity for you, your land, and your community.

Citation: An Act to Provide for the Allotment of Lands in Severalty to Indians on the Various Reservations (General Allotment Act or Dawes Act), Statutes at Large 24, 388-91, NADP Document A1887.

What is Fractionation?

Fractionation refers to divided ownership of Indian lands and is the result of land parcels (allotments) passing to numerous heirs over generations. The land itself is not physically divided; rather, the heirs of an original allottee own undivided interests in the allotment. Many allotments now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners.

Divided ownership makes it difficult, if not impossible, to use the land for any beneficial purpose because consent from 50-90 percent of the owners must first be obtained (level of consent depends on the number of owners on a tract). As a result, fractionated allotments often lie idle rather than being utilized for agricultural, recreational, cultural, commercial or even residential purposes. Even when consent can be obtained to lease an allotment, highly divided ownership often results in individual owners receiving only nominal lease returns. A significant portion of landowners earn $25 or less in annual income from their fractional interests in allotments.

As of December 31, 2018, the Program has acquired 800,310 interests, which is a 34 percent reduction in total purchasable fractional interests that are associated with the 50 locations where Program implementation has occurred since September 2013 (a 27 percent reduction in interests at the approximately 150 Program-identified locations).

As tracts (or “allotments”) of tribal lands are passed down through generations, they gain more and more individual owners – in fact, many allotments now have hundreds and even thousands of individual owners. Many tracts have more owners than acres. Because it is difficult to gain landowner consensus for how to use the land, these allotments often lie idle and can’t be used for any beneficial purpose for the landowner or community.

The Buy-Back Program will work with tribes to consolidate fractionated lands, which will be transferred directly to the tribe that has jurisdiction over the fractionated tracts and held in trust, preventing further fractionation. The tribe can then use this land to benefit its community – for example, to build homes, community centers or businesses, or for cultural or environmental preservation.

Should I participate in the program?

Although selling one’s land through the Buy-Back Program has the potential to greatly benefit tribal communities, landowners who receive offers can choose to sell all, some, or none of their fractionated interests.

It is your choice whether to sell some, all, or none of your fractional land interests. If you choose to sell any portion of your interests, you will be paid fair market value for your interests – interests which may be of little or no economic benefit to you now. Selling your interests results in land consolidation, which enables tribes to manage and use reservation lands for the benefit of the tribal community and generations to come. Tribes are able to utilize consolidated lands for purposes consistent with the values and needs of their members, whether for housing, community centers or businesses, or for recreational or cultural purposes. Reducing fractionation reinforces the cultural and economic future of tribes, and every interest you choose to sell reduces fractionation.

Many individuals have a strong personal and cultural connection to land which transcends economic value. By selling your interests through the Buy-Back Program, you help to preserve the Indian land base because interests purchased and restored to tribes will remain in trust forever.

Moving Forward:

As the Program and Tribes work together to address the issue of fractionation across Indian country, there are several factors which will guide the Program’s strategy. As set forth in the terms in the Cobell Settlement Agreement, the Department must implement the Program within a 10-year period (by 2022). Because of this, we must work together – government-to-government – to ensure that the Program is carried out as efficiently as possible at each location.

Although the Program may use up to 15% of the Fund to administer the Program by performing tribal outreach, land research, appraisals, and land acquisition, the Department of the Interior is committed to keeping administrative costs to a minimum. This is to ensure the maximum amount of dollars is used to purchase fractionated interests.

How can I participate in the program?

If you are interested in participating in the program, we urge you to contact the following number to update your information and register as a willing seller:

Trust Beneficiary Call Center (TBCC) 1-888-678-6836

As a landowner/heir, we recommend attending one of our events to learn more about the program. You can locate our event dates and locations on this site and/or call our Fond du Lac Outreach Staff for more information at 218-878-2602.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our events!

Whereabouts Unknown

Whereabouts Unknown (WAU) is the term used to describe Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders without current address information on file. The Cobell Settlement authorizes the purchase of interests from WAU landowners. However, the Department hopes to implement the Program only through the active participation of willing sellers whose addresses are current. The following applies to purchases of WAU interests:

The Cobell Settlement Agreement and enacting legislation require the Department to make stringent notifications and undertake efforts to locate WAU landowners of trust or restricted property.

If after five years these owners cannot be located, they shall automatically be deemed to have consented to the conveyance of fractionated interests that are located on a parcel of highly-fractionated land.

Interests purchased from WAU individuals will be paid at fair market value and the funds will be deposited in the individual’s IIM account.

U.S. Dept. of Interior Whereabouts Unknown Search

Contact Information

Fond du Lac Cobell Land Buy-Back Office
FDL Cloquet Community Center (in the library)
1720 Big Lake Road
Cloquet, MN 55720

Email: Cobellbuyback@fdlrez.com

Facebook Site: Facebook Link

Phone: (218) 878-2602

FDL Buy-Back Staff:
Josyaah Budreau, Outreach Manager
Virginia Lord, Outreach Coordinator

Notary Public Locations Link

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
(218) 751-2011

Trust Beneficiary Call Center (TBCC)