Government land purchase designed to stop fractionation

David Melmer
12/28/05

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- The Department of the Interior has dubbed its land
consolidation program a success because it reduces land fractionation and
reduces the number of Individual Indian Money trust accounts. However, some
tribes are not so sure the program is good for them.

The Indian Land Consolidation Act of 1983 was designed to prevent further
land fractionation, consolidate fractional interests and ownership into
usable parcels in the name of the tribe, promote tribal self-sufficiency
and self-determination, and reverse the effects of the allotment policy on
American Indian tribes.

In 1999, the Indian Land Consolidation Program began as a pilot program
that started with three tribes in the Great Lakes region. An amendment to
the ILCA in 2000 expanded the program to include 18 reservations in seven
regions and authorized the government to purchase fractionated land from
owners who own 2 percent or less of an original allotment. The owner can
choose to sell or not. The land is sold at what is termed fair market
value, or the owner can choose to sell to a higher bidder. The government
holds deed to the land for the tribe and collects any lease or royalty
payments from the use of the land to repay the purchase price.

The average purchase price for land is now $505 per acre.

A Rosebud spokesman told Interior and BIA officials that the tribe would
like to not have the pilot program, saying that the secretary has no right
holding deeds to land: "This is another form of holding us to the fire."

The program will jeopardize the Rosebud Sioux Tribe's Tribal Land
Enterprise, through which the tribe has purchased land for the tribe over
the past 60 years, the spokesman said.

Tribal officials said one problem with the program is the fact that the
government uses computer averaging to determine appraised or market values.
Harold Compton, BIA realty officer for Rosebud, noted that the government
doesn't hire an appraiser for each parcel of land; the Rosebud Sioux Tribe,
on the other hand, has a pool of appraisers it uses to determine land
value.

Compton said the program at Rosebud has been a success because in his
opinion, it achieves economic and social success when someone acquires a
piece of land on which to live.

The Omaha Tribe is losing land to non-Indian buyers. Neither the tribe nor
the government can afford to purchase land at the going purchase price.
American Indian landowners sell their land for an amount that is sometimes
half of what non-Indian sellers can receive. For instance, land on the
Omaha Reservation in Nebraska, which is along the Missouri River, will sell
for $1,800 per acre to non-Indian landowners but only $800 -- $1,000 per
acre for Omaha members.

The Blackfeet are losing land at a rapid rate, said tribal councilman and
traditional leader William Talks About. While the tribe has the right of
first refusal for land purchase, it has no money. The land is then sold to
non-Indian land owners for the most part. "Large tracts of land are going
to non-Indian landowners," he said.

The ILCA allows for the purchase of tracts of less than 2 percent of the
allotment, however, government officials said the government has purchased
large tracts of land for the BIA.

"We count on the BIA to protect our land, but when the competition puts up
millions of dollars, the BIA can't do that," Talks About said.

"The kids inherit the land and don't know what they have: they just want
the money," Talks About said. The land is taken out of Blackfeet ownership,
and the tribe then loses more land base.

He said there are four Hutterite colonies on the reservation that are
increasing their land base.

On a national scale, there are an estimated 3.2 million individual land
owner interests with some 86 percent of the interests at 2 percent or
below.

Of the 18 tribes in the pilot program, the majority of individual land
ownership is within the Great Plains region. Standing Rock and Pine Ridge
in the Great Plains are the top two, with 268,000 and 230,000 acres,
respectively. The Navajo Nation is third, with 211,000 acres.

Since the program began, there have been more than 178,000 land owner
interests purchased for a total cost of $78 million. The government
purchases have eliminated 1,200 IIM accounts.

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