The Department of Interior Land Buy-Back Program

For You, Your Land, Your Tribal Community

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The Department of Interior established the Land Buy-Back Program to purchase fractional land interests in Indian Country. The Pala Band is partnering with the Program to reduce the number of fractional land interests on the Pala Reservation through voluntary land sales with individual landowners.

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What is land fractionation and why is it an issue in Indian Country and at Pala?
Over a hundred years ago, the federal government tried to break up Indian reservations and tribal authority by separating and dividing tribal trust lands to individuals. Over time, those individual parcels have been broken up into dozens, sometimes, hundreds of ownership interests which has resulted many lands being left unused, abandoned, and without any beneficial purpose. In addition, some lands have been transferred to non-Indians. Altogether, the break-up, or “fractionation” of Reservation lands has resulted in a diminishment of tribal sovereignty and self-determination, and an intrusion of state jurisdiction.

What is the Land Buy-Back Program?
As part of the Cobell Settlement, the Department of Interior established the Land Buy-Back Program (“Program”) to give individual landowners an opportunity to help solve the problem of Reservation fractionation. The Program will purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land (allotments) from willing sellers. Individuals who choose to sell their interest receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (“IMM”) accounts. Consolidated interests are then immediately restored to the tribal trust ownership benefitting the Pala community and tribal members.

Who is involved in the Program?
The Department of Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”), Office of Special Trustee (“OST”), and Bureau of Land Management administer the Program.

What is the Pala tribe’s involvement?
The Pala Band will partner with the Program and help facilitate education, outreach, sales, and other Program information.

How does the Program determine what interests (allotments) to acquire?
There is no fixed formula. The Program will consider allotments based upon the level of fractionation (number of owners); tribal priority tracts; and interested and willing sellers.

How much money will there be to purchase allotment interests? The Program funds the purchases – not the Band. The Program will use a formula that considers the total number of purchasable fractional interests; the number of fractioned tracts; and the acres related to those fractional interests. Please note that the Program has a limited amount of funds so there is no guarantee that the Program will purchase every allotment from every willing seller.

When will offers start to come in?
The appraisal process will start in early 2017. Appraisals will be done by the federal Office of Appraisal Services and based on fair market value of land values at Pala and the surrounding area. Once the appraisals are complete, then offers will be sent out around Spring 2017.

How long does the process take?
It will take a few months for the Program and Band to inform and educate allotment owners about the Program, sales process, and complete land appraisals. After the appraisals are completed and offers sent out, willing sellers have 45 days to complete and return their offers.

How much can I receive? That will depend on what the appraisals say, and the appraisals will be calculated at fair market value, plus $75 to each seller. Please note that each parcel’s appraisal amount will be divided by the number of that parcel’s owners.

Who decides how much I will get?
The Program’s appraisal of fair market value will determine the amount. Fair market values looks at comparable sales in the area for similar lands.

Who performs the appraisal?
The Office of Appraisal Services (within the Dept. of Interior) will perform the appraisals.

Will individuals be able to negotiate the value and/or price of their interests?
No. The Program appraisal will determine the fair market value of the land, using comparable sales in the area and other factors.

Will I be taxed on the sale of my allotment interests?
No. Income derived by an Indian from the sale of trust property is not taxable.

Will my house, trailer, or other improvements be included in the valuation?
Since only land is a trust asset, the Program will only appraise the land and not what is on the land for fair market value appraisal.

Can I sell my allotment if there’s a house or trailer on it?
Yes, the Program will pay fair market value for the land, but not for any house, trailer, or other improvements on the land. You will be given a life estate to the land, and can then stay on the land and continue to reside in the home as long as you enter into a life-estate lease of the home with the tribe.

So I would lease my home from the tribe?
Yes, you would have a life estate to the land and the tribe would lease the home back to you for as long as you are alive (life estate) for a small, nominal amount (for example, $1/year) and you would remain in the home. Again, the Program wants to reduce fractionation on the Reservation by purchasing allotment interest, but also wants people to remain in their homes.

Is a lease required before I sell my interest?
No. The tribe just needs a resolution that provides a leasing opportunity to individuals living in un-leased residences on allotted tracts.

Why would I want to sell my land?
By selling your interests through the Program, you help preserve the Pala land base because allotment interests purchased by the Program will remain in trust forever. Every selling landowner will be paid fair market value for their allotment interest. By selling your interests you help consolidate lands on the Reservation, which enable the Band to manage and use Reservation lands for the benefit of the Tribal community and future generations. 

Please remember that just because one has an ownership interest in a parcel, one must still get the other owners to consent to a land lease and/or a home going on that parcel, which as we know is never easy, if not impossible, and that is why many parcels lie vacant and become a nuisance over time.

Please note that federal law requires the following consent percentages for any allotment lease:

Number of Undivided Interest Owners Percentage of Owners who Must Consent
5 or Fewer 90%
6-10 80%
11-19 60%
20 or more 50%

Thus, for allotments with 20 or more owners, one would need to get half of the other owners to agree with another person’s lease of the land, which has been extremely difficult. Especially, where owners live on another reservation and/or far away from Pala. In those cases, and, because of the high degree of fractionation, those owners should strongly consider selling their interests to the Program.

Every allotment owner who sells their interest helps restore Reservation lands and, strengthens the tribe and the Reservation for future generations and greater tribal sovereignty. Finally, a portion of every sale goes to the Cobell scholarship fund for Indian students, including Pala students.

What will the Tribe do with the allotment interest it if I sell it to them?
The Program will put those interests into trust. Every allotment interest you sell reduces fractionation. Reducing fractionation strengthens the cultural and economic future of the Tribe.

How do I find out what land I own?
You can contact the Program at 1 (888) 678-6836 or visit www.doi.gov/buybackprogram. How many interest holders on my land? Where is my land? Can I get a map? All these questions, can be answered by the Program, and, as the tribe moves forward with the Program, we likely be able to help you with those questions.

What is the Tribe spending on this process/program/research?
The tribe is utilizing existing tribal staff, along with the Program’s funding, staff and support.

Who/what parcels will be approached to sell?
Every allotment owner is able to sell. The Program and tribe will be sending out offer packets to allotment owners.

Who picks these parcels?
Any interested sellers, the Program and tribe, but every allotment owner can decide to sell.

Do the people have a say in which allotments are sold to the tribe? No, each allotment owner decides; even if there are multiple owners per parcel – each owner can decide to sell.

What criteria is used to decide which parcels are up for buy back? The Program’s goal is to reduce fractionation and restore Reservation lands; so the Program will target highly fractionated parcels, then non-Pala owners and those who don’t live at Pala, and then all other parcels that help restore the Reservation.

What about mineral interests?
The purpose of the Program is to reduce fractionation so a landowner cannot sever one’s mineral rights from their surface rights. However, a person who only owns mineral rights (but not surface rights) may sell their mineral rights through the Program.

What if the interest holder’s share hasn’t gone through the probate process yet?
The Program will work with the BIA probate office on those issues.

How will I receive my funds if I sell?
Landowners who chose to sell their fractional interest will receive payment directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.

What will be included in the purchase offer package?
The package will contain a cover letter; instructions to sell; a deed to the property; a purchasable interest inventory list showing your ownership interest in each eligible purchase; maps; and a self-addressed stamped envelope to return the deed and other documents.

What do I do when I receive the purchase offer package?
First, review the deed and inventory list to make sure that your name and personal information are correct. If any information is not correct, do not fill out the deed nor make any corrections to the deed. Return the deed and inventory list and contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836 to correct any mistakes.

 If opting to sell, select “sell all tracts” bubble to sell all tracts, or use the inventory list to select individual interests. Then, in front of a notary, sign the deed exactly as it appears on the deed. Finally, return the original signed and notarized deed, along with all the pages of the Inventory (both Summary and Detail sections), in the self-addressed stamped envelope. You must return the original documents, but you can keep copies.

Can I make changes to the deed?
No. The deed is a legal document. Do not cross out, white out, or make any marks on the deed. Please call the Beneficiary Call Center to report mistakes and make corrections.

How long do I have to decide to sell?
You have 45 days from the date of the cover letter in the offer package. Signed and notarized deeds and the purchasable interest inventory must be returned by the deadline on the cover letter.

When and how will get paid?
The Program has 60 days to process your payment and deposit it into your IIM account.

Why should I sell again?
By selling your interests through the Program, you help preserve the Pala land base because allotment interests purchased will remain in trust forever. Every selling landowner will be paid fair market value for their allotment interest. By selling your interests you help consolidate lands on the Reservation, which enable the Band to manage and use Reservation lands for the benefit of the Tribal community and future generations.  Every allotment owner who sells their interest helps restore Reservation lands and, strengthens the tribe and the Reservation for future generations and greater tribal sovereignty. Finally, a portion of every sale goes to the Cobell scholarship fund for to assist Indian students, including Pala students.

I’m interested, who should I contact?
Please contact palabuyback@palatribe.com or DaNikka Huss, Pala Administration at 760-891-3518. You can also contact the Land Buy-Back Program Trust Beneficiary Call Center at (888) 678-6836.

For more information on offer packets please visit the Land Buy Back’s website: https://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners/offer-docs.

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Pala Band of Mission Indians

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