Trusts provide a number of legal benefits and are used in cases that range from simple inheritance to complex creditor protection. For some members of Native American tribes in Oklahoma and four other states, trust administration following a 2010 land buy-back settlement is not moving fast enough. The tribal leaders say they have suggestions for more efficient action, but government officials are not listening to them.
The buy-back program was set in motion after a 2010 class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged mismanagement of trust money held for Indian landowners by the government. A $3.4 billion settlement resulted from the suit, including the $1.9 billion buy-back program.
One goal of the buy-back program is to address land fractionation issues. In 1887, the Dawes Act fractured lands allocated to Native American tribes. The land was divided into parcels of 80 to 160 acres. Over the years, each parcel has fallen to multiple ownership through inheritance -- some parcels have hundreds or thousands of owners.
Because use of the land requires all owners to be in agreement, many of the parcels are sitting without use. It is extremely difficult to hunt down and get agreement from hundreds of owners when land is to be used for farming or leased to a business or individual. The buy-back program seeks to address the issue by purchasing the land from multiple owners and selling it to a single owner.
According to a spokesperson for the Interior Department's Office of Indian Affairs, 40,000 acres have returned to tribal ownership in the past four months. The agency also reports making offers to around 18,000 landowners. Even so, tribe leaders aren't happy with the progress. One tribe in Oklahoma said it has compiled a list of landowners who are willing to sell, but states the agency isn't ready to come to the table.
In any case involving trusts, it's important to do your own research and understand legal issues. Though the tribes in these cases aren't getting desired cooperation, they seem to understand their options and have a direction for their case.
Source: The Republic, "Tribal leaders criticize $1.9B land-buyback program in congressional hearing" Matt Volz, Apr. 03, 2014