December 7, 2016

Barrasso Opening Statement at Oversight Hearing on Land Buy-Back Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee oversight hearing on “Examining the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, Four Years Later.”
In his opening statement, Barrasso also recognized Vice Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) for his leadership on the committee and his dedication to Indian Country.
The hearing featured testimony from the Honorable Michael L. Connor, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Honorable Floyd Azure, chairman for the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes; the Honorable Terry Tatsey, vice chairman of the Blackfeet Nation; Mr. Turk Cobell, treasurer for the Cobell Board of Trustees; and Mr. Melvin Monette, president and executive director of Indigenous Education, Inc. and the Cobell Scholarship.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony and to watch video of the entire hearing.
Click here to watch Sen. Barrasso’s remarks.
Chairman Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today’s hearing will focus on the Department of the Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program, including the Cobell Scholarship Fund.
“In 2010, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Claims Resolution Act of 2010.
“A title in this Act, the Individual Indian Money Account Litigation Settlement, authorized and ratified the Cobell Settlement Agreement.
“The purpose of the settlement was to resolve a class-action lawsuit regarding the Federal government’s accounting and management of over 300,000 individual Indian trust accounts.
“This Settlement Agreement established and deposited 1.9 billion dollars into the Trust Land Consolidation Fund. Those funds are to be expended during a 10-year period, from 2012 to 2022.
“Additionally, the settlement agreement established the Indian Education Scholarship Fund with funds to be transferred from the Trust Land Consolidation Fund of up to $60 million.
“On December 17, 2012, the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations was established through a secretarial order.
“The Land-Buy Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, by purchasing fractional land interests from willing sellers and then holding those newly purchased lands in trust for the respective Indian tribes.
“According to the Department of the Interior, there are approximately 243,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interest in 150 Indian reservations. Approximately 90 percent of those interests are located within 50 Indian reservations.
“The Settlement also establishes an account called the Indian Education Scholarship Holding Fund. These funds are to be used to provide financial assistance to Native American students to defray the cost of attendance at both post-secondary vocational schools and institution of higher education. Contributions to this fund are allocated by a formula from the Trust Land Consolidation Fund.
“Last month, the Interior Department released its annual Status Report on the Land Buy-Back Program. The report highlights many statistics and informs us that approximately 900 million of the 1.9 billion dollars has been paid to 45,600 individuals to consolidate 1.7 million acres, during the last four years.
“The report also suggests that despite the efforts of the land buy-back program, the 1.9 billion dollars provided in the settlement was not be enough.
“In fact, the report states — and illustrates with these graphs you can see — that after the land buy-back program ends in 2022, the estimated growth of fractional interests will return to pre-program levels and continue to grow.
“Today’s witnesses will help us determine the success and effectiveness of the Land Buy-Back Program at its four year anniversary and should assist the incoming Trump administration in considering this program’s viability.
“Before I turn to the vice chairman for an opening statement, I want to first acknowledge Senator Tester’s contribution to the committee as both chairman and vice chairman.
“I understand that Senator Udall will be the incoming vice chairman in the 115th Congress.
“When Senator Tester was chairman of this committee, we had a good working relationship. When the roles switched, we continued to have a good working relationship in bipartisan fashion; nothing changed.
“Let me say when we disagreed on policy, we always agreed on the goal, and that was bettering the lives for tribal communities. We never lost focus nor did we waiver.
“I want to personally thank you Senator Tester for your leadership and dedication to Indian Country, and I want to also include the same thanks to your staff.”