Hearing on Native American Land Settlements Will Focus on Dem Push for Tribal Equity, GOP Push to Buy Less Valuable Property

Washington, D.C. – This afternoon’s hearing of the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee on the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations – a central feature of the federal government’s attempt to correct its historical mismanagement of Native American land – will focus on the split between the Democratic push to fund the program beyond its 2022 expiration date and the Republican effort to spend existing program funds as quickly as possible, often to buy tribes pieces of property with few long-term economic prospects.

Republicans have also floated the idea of using the remaining Buy-Back Program funds to purchase land that would be sold to the highest tribal bidder, perverting the intent of the settlement and the Program itself. Democrats will reject both efforts at today’s hearing.

The Buy-Back Program was instituted as part of a 2009 settlement agreement and confirmed in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. The settlement came after years of legal wrangling between tribes and federal entities over how to rectify the so-called fractionated land issue, which began with the Allotment and Assimilation period of the late 19th and early 20th century. The General Allotment Act of 1887, also known as the Dawes Act, dictated the forced conversion of communally held tribal lands into separate 80- and 160-acre parcels for individual Indian ownership.

To date, the Buy-Back Program has been successful. When the Program officially began operating in 2012, there were approximately 150 reservations with 2.9 million purchasable fractional interests owned by approximately 245,000 individuals. At the end of fiscal year 2016, more than $1.1 billion had been paid to landowners, nearly 680,000 fractional interests were consolidated (a 23 percent reduction), and the equivalent of 2.1 million acres of land had been transferred to tribal governments.

Arguing that these figures somehow show the program has failed, Republicans want to use the program’s remaining funds to buy cheap land with marginal economic potential and close the program down. Democrats largely support extending the program beyond 2022 and funding continued buybacks of fractionated land.

“Republicans are using taxpayers as cover to shortchange tribes for the hundredth time,” Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said today. “The notion of buying low-value land in the name of getting this process over with is almost as insulting as the idea of selling tribes back their own land. The idea behind the Cobell settlement was to make tribes whole, not write a few checks and call it a day. We can’t just stop meeting our responsibilities because the initial agreement didn’t go far enough. We need to continue and expand the Buy-Back Program, fully fund it and continue working on long-term solutions to the fractionation issue.”

Press Contact

Media Contact: Adam Sarvana

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626 mobile