Representative Steve Daines is working to ensure Montanan tribes are treated fairly and have their voices heard as the Department of Interior implements the Land Buy Back Program for Tribal Nations authorized as part of the landmark Cobell Settlement.
During Thursday’s hearing, Daines called for the Department of Interior to cooperatively work with Montana tribes and address the systemic problems that have led to delays and persistent challenges during the implementation of the Land Buy Back Program:
“Fractionation makes economic development and access to essential services extremely challenging. Navigating federal government bureaucracy becomes even more complex. The Land Buy Back Program has provided Indian Country with a means to improve their future,” Daines said. “However, as we have heard today, the program is not working and the hope in Indian country is turning into frustration. When I toured several of the reservations in Montana at the beginning of this year, implementation of the Land Buy Back Program was the highest issue of concern for most tribes. When every tribe is experiencing similar challenges, we know the problems must be systemic.”
Daines also welcomed two Montana tribal leaders including Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribal Councilman Grant Stafne to Thursday’s hearing, who testified at Daines’ invitation about the challenges as well as frustrations Montana tribes have experienced during the implementation of the Land Buy Back Program.
“The settlement of the Cobell litigation presents the United States with the opportunity to accomplish great good: provide redress for Indian land owners who were victims of the Interior Department’s failure to provide an accounting of IIM accounts and for some mismanagement of Indian trust resources, reduce fractionated Indian land ownership, and attempt to redress the negative results of the General Allotment Act through restoration of tribal land bases that will promote Indian self-determination, strengthen and advance the economic security of tribal communities, and fulfill the United States’ trust responsibility to Indians,” said Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribal Councilman Grant Stafne. “Unfortunately, the Cobell Settlement was developed without Tribal consultation or input despite the significant impact the settlement would have on Tribal lands.”
In February, Daines requested an oversight hearing to fully examine the land buy back program implementation process and urge the U.S. Department of Interior to conduct the plan in a just and fair manner. Daines called for oversight and transparency as the U.S. Department of Interior works with Montana’s tribes to implement the program.
The Cobell Settlement provided for the resolution of individual Indian claims to land and funds held in trust. This settlement called for a one-time payment of $1.9 billion to fund an Interior Department program to consolidate highly fractionated interests of Indian lands into tribal ownership.