One of the biggest obstacles to business and housing development on the Pine Ridge reservation is fractionated land ownership. In 1887, Congress deeded tribal land to individual Indian owners. Those original 80- to 160-acre allotments have been sliced and diced by inheritance into unworkably small plots. A developer who wants to acquire a few acres to build a factory or a housing subdivision may have to cobble together land deals with dozens of separate owners.
Fortunately, Uncle Sam is stepping in to clear this obstacle to private enterprise. As part of the landmark Cobell settlement, the Department of Interior and Oglala Sioux Tribe have agreed on a Land Buy-Back Program to get titleholders to sell their land and consolidate ownership under tribal trust:
“It is a priority for the Obama Administration to reduce fractionation and implement the Buy-Back Program in as fair and equitable a manner as possible,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Cooperative agreements give us an opportunity to work together, nation-to-nation, to ensure that the Program’s implementation is tailored to the specific priorities of each tribe. This agreement reflects a spirit of mutual respect and teamwork as we work together to address this opportunity.”
Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The fractionation of tribal lands has locked away resources and decision making from tribes. In Pine Ridge alone, there are approximately 6,028 tracts with 195,862 purchasable fractional interests. This has made it increasingly difficult to manage the land for economic development and other uses.
“I am very happy with the agreement and glad that was done,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan V. Brewer. “Our Outreach workers are out meeting with the people in the communities. I am hoping that we will be able to start buying the fractionated land that is out there with the money that is available. We are also anticipating the first offer to be complete within the month” [U.S. Department of Interior, press release, 2013.12.09].
Notice that this program is cooperative and voluntary, not a land grab using eminent domain like the Keystone XL pipeline. This federal program will empower tribal entrepreneurs to invest in local economic development.
The Buy-Back Program is holding an outreach meeting in Kyle at the Little Wound School this Saturday, December 14, at 1 p.m. Central.