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Offers out to owners of Fond du Lac land

The U.S. Interior Department on March 14 said Minnesota's Fond du lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has $3.8 million available to buy back interest in multiple parcels of land on the reservation.

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The U.S. Interior Department on March 14 said Minnesota’s Fond du lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has $3.8 million available to buy back interest in multiple parcels of land on the reservation.

Interior officials said formal offers have been made to 3,200 landowners with “fractional interests” in the reservation as part of the federal land buy-back program for tribal nations.

Interested sellers have 45 days - until May 2 - to return accepted offers in the prepaid postage envelopes provided.

The parcels are each owned by multiple people, so-called fractionation, where divided ownership of reservation land is the result of land parcels passing down to numerous heirs over generations.

Fractionation of reservation land stems primarily from the General Allotment Act of 1887 that allotted land to individual tribal members, often in 80- or 160-acre parcels. The lands have been handed down to heirs over successive generations, causing the number of shared interests in one parcel to grow exponentially with each generation.

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At the start of the program, there were approximately 150 reservations nationwide with 93,000 parcels of land and 2.9 million purchasable fractional interests owned by nearly 245,000 individuals. Many tracts have more owners than acres.

The buy-back money comes from the Cobell settlement, a $3.4 billion class-action lawsuit against the government filed by Montana's Elouise Cobell in 1996 alleging mismanagement of royalties owed to Native Americans since the late 1800s. The settlement was approved by Congress in 2010.

Like Fond du Lac, reservation governments across the country are trying to rebuild ownership of land within their boundaries to better serve their tribal members through conservation, housing, agriculture, forestry, wildlife habitat, economic development and other efforts.

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Minnesota's six Chippewa bands are eligible for about $20 million to start tracking down willing sellers for 979 tracts totaling more than 60,000 acres and involving some 71,000 heirs to the fractionated land.

At Fond du Lac, a single parcel can be owned by as many as 1,800 owners.

Of the 100,000 total acres within the boundary of the Fond du Lac Reservation in Carlton and St. Louis counties, more than 36,000 are owned by or controlled by the tribe. But of that, about 8,000 acres are split up and owned by tribal members or their heirs and technically are private property.

Since the program began making offers in December 2013, more than $736 million has been paid to individual landowners, and the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million acres of land has been transferred to tribal governments.

“We continue to see enthusiasm for the buy-back program across Indian Country,” Michael Connor, deputy Interior secretary, said in a statement.

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In addition to receiving fair-market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.

For more information, call the Fond du Lac tribal buy-back staff at 218-878-7361 or the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians at (218) 751-4338. For dates and locations of meetings scheduled on the buy-back program go to fdlrez.com/landbuyback/events.htm.

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