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Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) – Tribal Lands Department releases Cobell Land Buy Back Program information

What is the land buy back program?
A portion of the Cobell settlement includes funds for Tribes to purchase fractionated ownership interests from willing trust land owners (Buy Back). The Cobell funds are being allocated to the Tribes because so many reservations were opened to non-Indian settlement by the US government, over the objections of the Tribes.

The Buy Back land purchases may help Tribal Nations rebuild Tribal economies and increase Tribal land holdings.

This $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund from the Cobell settlement enables the purchase of land by eligible Tribal governments. There are an estimated 150 Tribal Nations that will participate in the program. Of the 150 Tribes, forty (40) Tribes own over 90 percent of the fractionated interest. CSKT is one of the 40 Tribes on the priority list.

What is an undivided fractionated interest?
Fractionated land ownership stems primarily from generational estate planning of original allotments, where individuals were given an 80 or 160 acre parcel of land, but also include parcels more recently placed into Trust status. When the owner of an allotment or Tribal trust property dies, Federal regulations allow the interest in the title ownership to be divided amongst the Heirs, and although the land can be physically divided, this rarely happens. Heir ship is split and as a result, there are parcels with hundreds and thousands of individual interest owners. These highly fractionated parcels, with no one person owning a controlling interest, makes the ability to constructively use the land nearly impossible.

The Tribes own in several of these fractionated interest parcels, but in others, the fractionated ownership is family member only.

How does owning an undivided interest affect me?
When an individual owns 100 percent of a particular parcel, the decision making for property use and property disposition is easy. Owning 1 percent of a 40-acre parcel with 180 other owners requires all owners agree on the use of the land. Leasing and building and other property use requires majority consent to any activity. The activity may even require 1 owner to pay the rest of the owners, if living on the property.

In many instances owning a fractionated interest is not a benefit, as the multiple ownership leaves property decision-making impossible. And, in many instances, the actual property owned is so small (.0005 percent) an owner cannot do anything productive with the property.

What are my choices as an undivided interest owner?
In the past, one choice for an individual was to obtain an appraisal (at your cost) and purchase the fractionated interest from the other owners. An individual owner would be responsible for obtaining an appraisal and obtaining the necessary resources for the purchase, provided all owners agreed to the purchase. Overtime, this approach may work for some families, but in other instances, it may be more difficult, as it can be difficult to achieve 100 percent agreement.

Another choice is to offer the undivided interest to the Tribes for Tribal government purchase at appraised value. If the Tribes own a majority of the land, the land can be offered for lease, or for home sites or for other government purposes.

Offering land to the Tribes will help to restore Tribal land ownership, which supports Tribal sovereignty and self-determination.

With the Cobell land buy back program, individual landowners can take advantage of having an approved appraisal on the parcel you own in. The DOI will appraise nearly every fractionated parcel on the reservation. The challenge is having the funds to purchase family member interests. Once you receive a purchase offer from the DOI, you will get a general idea of the financial obligations if you want to attempt to buy the other owners out.

If you have questions about this, you may call George Ducharme or Anita Matt or you can call the trust beneficiary call center number when you receive a purchase offer (April or May 2014 estimated).

What is the minimum payment I can receive if I decide to sell my interests?
Due to some very highly fractionated parcels, the DOI BIA has established a minimum payment for land at the level of $75.00. If a person makes $2.00 a year for leasing their land, the minimum payment provides a larger financial incentive. Most Tribes requested a minimum financial payment, as some fractionated interest purchases would be less than a dollar.

Larger payments may occur based on parcel appraisal and per cent of ownership. There is no negotiation on the dollar amount offered for each undivided interest and the offers are time limited. Landowner decisions must be made while the purchase offer is still valid.

How long are purchase offers valid?
Purchase offers will come from the Department of the Interior and they are valid for 45 days.

Why should I sell my interest to the Tribe?
Some federal funding the Tribes receive is based on land area, some on the number of enrolled members, and some on particular social indicators. The Flathead Reservation is “home land” to many Tribal people. Consolidating the Flathead Tribal land base is a way to preserve and sustain our Tribal nation into the future. The restoration of lost lands is critical to our nation’s long-term survival and viability.

Why is the Tribe interested in buying my undivided land interest?
Tribal elders and leaders have historically advocated for the purchase and return of reservation lands to Tribal ownership. For many years, the Tribal budget has had a land acquisition component. The Tribes want to buy land when it is affordable and especially when it meets Tribal goals. Fractionated lands are already in protected trust status, which is a benefit to the Tribes. The goal is to consolidate Tribal land holdings and offer Tribal members appraised value for their interests. Purchasing Tribal land is a way to sustain the Tribal government and home land.

How will the CSKT participate in the Cobell Buy Back Program?
The CSKT will receive an estimated $7.3 million from the Cobell fund to buy local fractionated land interests from Tribal members. The tracts under consideration will be highly fractionated Tribal priorities. There are over 328 allotments containing more than one owner who owns an undivided interest in the tract. Eighty-one allotments have 50 or more owners, and one allotment has 146 owners. Our goal is to preserve the trust allotments and return the trust land to Tribal ownership, if a seller is willing.

The CSKT will prioritize the willing seller requests of elders, who are age 60 and older.

Forty Tribes (40) are identified by the BIA as priority areas for purchase. The CSKT are number 38 on the list of 40 Tribes. The CSKT have purchased both trust and fee land for years, and as a result, the Tribes are not as bad off as other reservations in terms of the number of fractionated tracts.

The Tribes estimated in November 2012, that there were over 1,295 owners in the 328 unique tracts. The number increases, as probates are heard and land assets are distributed.

The CSKT will make purchase offers on mineral (subsurface) and land interests (surface) where there is MORE than one (1) owner.

What can my Tribe do the stop the undivided interest problem?
One solution is to buy the undivided interests from willing sellers to consolidate the Tribes land holdings. The other option is to adopt a Tribal probate code, which prohibits the inheritance of Tribal land if the “heir” is not an eligible CSKT member or descendent. In other words, members of other Tribes could not inherit land on the Flathead. The CSKT would purchase their interests at fair market value. Other Tribes have adopted similar measures in an effort to protect Tribal land for the members of each distinct Tribe.

What can an individual do to stop the undivided interest problem?
Estate planning and will preparation. An individual may gift deed property to family to ensure that “wishes’ are carried out and to ensure that property is not fractionated.

When will the CSKT Program get started? What should I do?
There are steps landowners can take. First, review your Title Status Report (TSR) for land ownership information. If you own land in multiple areas, you will eventually receive offers from each agency/Tribe, as long as the federal funding remains available and if the Tribe is on the list for the Cobell Buy Back program.

George Ducharme and Carolee Wendeworth in Tribal Lands can print your TSR and review it with you at your request. This will give you a better idea of what you own and the number of other owners. They will meet with family members, if requested.

Anita Matt is the CSKT contact for the Cobell Buy Back Program. She can be reached at (406) 675-2700 ext. 1266. Many CSKT land owners worked with Anita in the Indian Land Consolidation Program (ILCP). Anita works in the Tribal Lands Department in Pablo, Mt.

Remember to update your mailing address and your phone number with IIM, Enrollment and Tribal Lands. Tara Irvine in the Tribal Lands Department has the proper application for updating address and phone numbers.

If you are interested in selling your fractionated interests, please call 675-2700 ext. 1266 and speak to Anita Matt or ext. 1267 and leave a message. Tribal Lands staff will assist you and are willing to meet with family members, if requested.

The CSKT will be making purchase offers on fractionated interests during the period of April – June 2014 (estimated dates as the offers are sent from the Department of the Interior).

A notary is required if you decide to sell your fractionated interests. The Tribal Lands Department and most banks have notaries. Please call before signing any documents, the Tribal Lands Staff can assist you (406) 675-2700, ext. 1274.

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