Interior Sends Additional $1.2 Million in Purchase Offers to Nearly 600 Landowners with Fractional Interests at Makah Reservation

Offers Valid for 45 Days as Part of $1.9 Billion Land Buy-Back Program

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program) has sent additional purchase offers totaling approximately $1.2 million to nearly 600 individual landowners with fractional interests in parcels at the Makah Reservation in the state of Washington. These offers will provide landowners the opportunity to voluntarily sell their fractional interests, which would be consolidated and held in trust for the Makah Indian Tribe.

The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value. Individuals who choose to sell their interests will receive payments directly in their IIM accounts. Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

“Fractionation is a serious problem that locks away lands across Indian Country that tribal governments could be using for the benefit of their tribes,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “That’s why the success of the Buy-Back Program is vitally important to the future of tribal nations. We are encouraged by initial purchases, and will continue to work cooperatively with tribal governments to conduct outreach to landowners. Consolidating and returning these lands to tribes in trust has enormous potential to improve tribal community resources.”

In December 2013, the Program began making offers to individuals who own interests at the Makah, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud Reservations to ensure their lands stay in trust. Accepted offers have already resulted in payments to landowners totaling more than $30 million and the consolidation and restoration of nearly 87,000 acres to tribes. While payments vary considerably, numerous owners have received thousands of dollars, and a few have received more than $100,000 for choosing to sell their interests. On average, payments to individuals have been made within seven days after Interior receives a complete, accepted offer package.

Purchase offers are valid for 45 calendar days. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Makah by May 30, 2014. Once accepted offers are processed, the Program will move implementation efforts to other tribal locations.

For information about outreach events where landowners with interests at Makah can gather information in order to make informed decisions, contact Dale Denney at dale.denney@makah.com or 360-645-3106, or visit: facebook.com/FTOPugetSoundAgency and facebook.com/Makah.Tribe.

Landowners can contact their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. More information is also available at: http://www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners.

Sellers receive fair market value for their land, in addition to a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land. All sales will also trigger contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. Up to $60 million will go to this fund to provide financial assistance through annual scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training. These funds are in addition to purchase amounts paid to individual sellers, so contributions will not reduce the amount paid to landowners for their interests. More information about the Fund and how interested students can apply can be found at the American Indian College Fund website: www.collegefund.org/Cobell.

Interior holds about 56 million acres of land in trust or restricted status for American Indians. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which about 93,500 – on nearly 150 reservations – contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program. There are more than 245,000 landowners, holding more than 3 million fractional interests in the tracts, eligible to participate in the Program.

A decision to sell land for restoration to tribes does not jeopardize a landowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement, which are being handled by the Garden City Group.

Navajo Vice President Rex Lee Jim Statement on Secretary Sebelius Resignation

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz.—Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim issued the following statement regarding U.S. Department of Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resignation announcement last week from the White House.

“We appreciate Secretary Sebelius’ service and commitment to create a tribal advisory committee and to help implement a meaningful consultation policy. The secretary took consultation to heart in developing consultation policies,” said Vice President Jim.

The Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC) is comprised of one primary representative from each of the 12 areas of the Indian Health Service.

President Obama announced last Friday his nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the next secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Currently, Burwell serves as the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Previously she served as president of the Walmart Foundation and president of the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

LeChee Electrification Project Brings Power to 63 Families

NGS, NTUA, Chapter team up for project to extend power lines

LeCHEE, ARIZ. – Alvin and Margie Tso have lived here among the ancient, cross-bedded sandstone with their livestock since 1954 when Mr. Tso returned home from the Korean War.

They raised eight children, saw work begin on the Glen Canyon Dam and the town of Page emerge from Manson Mesa. They watched in the mid-1970s as the Navajo Generating Station rose day-by-day where their cattle used to graze.

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“So it’s been a while,” Mr. Tso said. “And we’re here as ranchers. My dad and my grandfather had their roots here, too. They’re the ones that ran cattle from the past. Sowe’re that breed.”

For decades, the Tsos waited patiently for their turn for electricity.

This month, they will join more than five dozen families from the LeChee Chapter on the Navajo Nation who will receive power for the first time through a $4.8 million joint project of NGS, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and the LeChee Chapter. Additional funding came from the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Beginning in October 2012, the LeChee Electrification Project installed power poles, strung lines, wired homes and brought electricity to the first 17 homes.

Since then, more than 75 miles of power poles and lines have been constructed and another 25 homes have been connected. All will have electric lights on for the first time by mid-April. A total of 63 homes will be electrified by 2015.

“We understand that families along this route had lost hope because they have been waiting for years,” said NTUA General Manager Walter W. Haase. “With this partnership, our goal is to restore that lost hope as we extend utility service to the area.”

LeChee Chapter obtained grants to wire homes and bring in electrical power. That was matched with $2 million from the six participant-owners of NGS and $1.1 from NTUA, which also provided the manpower to build the project.

“For many of us, having access to electric service is taken for granted,” NGS Plant Manager Robert Talbot said. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the NTUA and the LeChee Chapter to bring members of the community without access to electricity a product that will have a lasting and positive impact on their lives.”

Three years ago, NGS Community Liaison Regina Lane received a $200,000 funding request from the LeChee Chapter for a power line right-of-way study. Lane forwarded the request to Barry Drost, SRP Director of Major Projects for Baseload Generation in Phoenix. After discussing the idea with other managers, they thought the amount of the request just wasn’t right. So they decided to recommend to NGS’s owners to make a $2 million contribution for the project instead.

“This $200,000 request meant it was going to be another 10 years or so before those people got electricity,” Drost said. “They really needed more money. And this was an opportunity for NGS to step up and to really show that they care about the community that they’re in and that they want to participate and be good neighbors.”

From the beginning, LeChee Chapter Manager Wilford Lane guided the project through the tribal process. He said many of these chapter residents have been waiting for electricity for 35 years or more.

“They’re just really grateful for it,” he said. “Some families have health problems that require electricity. One uses a breathing apparatus. She had to go to another location to use it.”

Mr. Lane said some of the residents who will receive power have school-aged children while others are 80 years old.

The chapter used its own funds to wire the homes at a cost of about $1,200 each, He said. Funding of Phase 3 to continue the project is through the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program.

Asked how long he waited for electricity, Mr. Tso said, “I suppose a lifetime since we moved here.”

“When the power plant came in, that’s what we hoped for,” he said. “All we see is that place lit up over there and here we’re sitting behind in darkness, you know? We wondered when it would happen.”

Margie Tso said it was not easy raising a family and doing all the laundry by hand with a washboard and tub. When she heard that there was a project to bring electricity to their home off U.S. 98 east of NGS, she said she would drive out every day to see how close the poles were.

“But to tell you the truth, we are very thankful that this has come about as it has,” she said.

Every summer, she and her husband put on a large Christian camp meeting and had to buy a generator in order to run the lights. When their daughters heard about the electrification project bringing power to their home, they said, “Daddy, now you don’t have to do that. Now you’ll get electricity,” Mrs. Tso said. “We’ll all celebrate that in the summer during the camp meeting. So we are going to enjoy that electricity.”

Down the highway, Laverne Etsitty and her husband Dennis raised five children near where she grew up in LeChee. Like the Tsos, they can see NGS from their home but have always been too far away from a power line for a costly extension.

Although NGS produces electricity, it’s against the law for it to distribute power on the Navajo Nation. Since 1959, NTUA has steadily electrified the Navajo Nation on a priority basis. The utility purchases electrical power from off the Navajo Nation and transmits it to homes throughout northern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah.

“For a long time, since when we were little, we always wanted electricity in our home,” Mrs. Etsitty said. “I got my own house now and I wanted it so badly. I probably used up a lot of money on generators.”

Her last generator is being repaired in Phoenix now, she said. She said they had to become creative to power their TV and charge their cell phones.

“My husband parks the truck right up here close so we use the power inverter just to watch TV,” she said.   “Yes, it costs gas. The truck has to run.”

This region of the Navajo Nation is known for its summer heat, with temperatures frequently above 100 degrees. That requires residents without electricity to make regular trips to town to buy ice to keep food cool.

Mrs. Etsitty, who has become expert in knowing which brand of ice stays frozen longest, says she looks forward to the end of that chore and being known in town as “the ice lady.”

“Everyone’s dream is a refrigerator and a new stove,” she said. “I want electric stuff like a microwave and crock pot and a toaster. Usually, I have to put it under the broiler thing to make toast.”

Most of all, she says, she hopes having electricity will make it possible for her children to move back home. Today, they live in Phoenix, Mesa, Farmington and one will graduate from welding school in Chicago in June.

When she told them she would finally get electricity in March, they were skeptical, she said.

“Are you for sure? That’s what they’re always saying to us,” she said. “Hopefully, they will. That’s what they want. My daughter said that if the electricity comes that she wants to move back and build a home here and live here. She has four kids so she’s living down in Mesa right now.”

Emma Brown lives in a traditional hogan between LeChee Rock and the scenic, craggy cliffs of Navajo Canyon where she raised her family. A wood stove warms it in winter and kerosene lamps have always provided light.

Through an interpreter she says she remembers that planning for a power line extension to her remote hogan began around 1980. But it never came. Then, about a month ago, an electrician arrived to install the wiring.

“He ran all the wires and connected them all,” she said in Navajo. “They told us it was all connected and ready. That will be very good when that is done for me.”

Soon, she said, power poles began to come closer and closer.

NGS- Lechee Electrification

Mrs. Brown’s daughter, Ruby Jackson, lives nearby. Until now, she said, they have used solar power just to run lights but have had to use a battery to operate a small TV. It’s been a long wait, she said.

“Finally!” she said. “But we got so used to not having it, you know? And we’re finally happy that it’s coming.”

She said she looks forward to replacing her gas refrigerator with an electric one, and will surprise her mother with one, as well.

“I so desperately need a refrigerator,” Mrs. Brown said. “It gets so hot during the summer! I will get a refrigerator!”

Told she could store a whole sheep in her new refrigerator, she said, “In that case, I will go look for a cow to butcher!”

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly Presents Navajo Budget Priorities to Congress

WASHINGTON—President Shelly testified today before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies regarding the Navajo Nation’s fiscal 2015 budget priorities including natural resource management, public safety and justice, health, education and abandoned mine cleanup.

Also testifying was Navajo-Hopi Land Commission Chairman and Council Delegate, Walter Phelps (Cameron, Coalmine Canyon, Tsidi To’ii, Leupp, Tolani Lake).

Tribal leaders nationwide are providing testimony before the subcommittee April 7 and 8 during the two-day hearing on Capitol Hill.

nn_prez_ShellyIn his testimony, President Shelly called for an increase in the Natural Resource Management line item. “Regulatory approval and permit requirements are burdensome. Funding this line item will allow us to better utilize our resources and will help create jobs,” said President Shelly.

For public safety and justice budget priorities, President Shelly said, “The Navajo Nation supports a recent bipartisan Indian Law and Order Commission report to Congress that recommends sufficient funding for Indian Country law enforcement.”

Regarding health, President Shelly said that the Navajo Nation fully supports IHS health care facilities construction. “One of the funded facilities within President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget is the Kayenta Health Center. When completed, this facility will provide quality health care to more than 19,000 people,” added President Shelly.

President Shelly urged lawmakers to fully fund higher education scholarships and elementary and secondary education through the Bureau of Indian Education.

Concerning environmental needs, the president requested resources be put forth to assist tribal coal-based economies, like the Navajo Nation, to invest in clean coal technology and renewable energy projects. Addressing the legacy of uranium mining, President Shelly requested the federal government fully fund the EPA’s ongoing five-year cleanup plan and fund a comprehensive health study on the long term effects of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.

Interior Announces First Transfer from Land Buy-Back Program to Cobell Education Fund

Initial transfer of nearly $580,000 will fund scholarship opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native students

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of the Interior today announced that quarterly transfers of funds to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund are set to begin this week with a first transfer of nearly $580,000 to the American Indian College Fund. The Scholarship Fund was authorized by the historic Cobell Settlement, approved in November 2012, to provide financial assistance through annual scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training.

“The Scholarship Fund is an important tool to help students across Indian Country pursue higher education opportunities imperative to their success in the workplace and to the creation of the next generation of Indian leaders,” said Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, who helped negotiate the Cobell Settlement on behalf of the Department. “While there was much debate in the settlement negotiations, there was no debate among the parties that we must do something to support Indian students in their aspirations and dreams.”

The Scholarship Fund is funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program). The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. Consolidated interests are transferred to tribal government ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

Interior will contribute up to $60 million from Buy-Back Program sales to the Scholarship Fund based on a formula in the Cobell Settlement that sets aside a certain amount of funding depending on the value of the fractionated interest sold.  These contributions do not reduce the amount that an owner will receive for voluntarily consolidating their interests.

The American Indian College Fund (College Fund), headquartered in Denver, Colorado, will administer the Scholarship Fund and has extensive experience in providing students the resources to succeed in tribal colleges and technical and vocational certifications as well as traditional undergraduate and graduate programs. A five-member Board of Trustees is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the College Fund’s administration of the Scholarship Fund and for developing and adopting a charter outlining its role and responsibilities. The College Fund is working with the Cobell Board of Trustees to stand up its operation in concert with this first transfer of funds.  Twenty percent of the Fund’s portfolio will be directed to support graduate students through the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the College Fund, shared that the Cobell Scholarship Program will help meet the tremendous financial need for educational support for American Indian and Alaska Native students across the country, many of whom live in poverty. “We are honored to remember the vision of Elouise Cobell that the Cobell Scholarship Fund would be used to lift up tribal students and their families,” she said.

More information about the Cobell Scholarship Program and how interested students can apply can be found at the American Indian College Fund website, www.collegefund.org/Cobell.

This first transfer of funds follows recent land purchases from willing sellers at the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. More than $100 million in purchase offers are currently pending for landowners with fractional interests at Pine Ridge. Owners must accept and return current purchase offers for fractionated lands on Pine Ridge by May 2, 2014.

Landowners can contact their local Fiduciary Trust Officer or call the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. More information is also available at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners.

Participation in the Buy-Back Program does not impact a landowner’s ability to receive individual settlement payments from the Cobell Settlement. Cobell Settlement payments are being handled separately by the Garden City Group, (800) 961-6109.

Office of Public Affairs-Indian Affairs U.S. Department of the Interior 1849 C St., N.W., MS-3658-MIB Washington, D.C.  20240 Main Line: 202-208-3710 Press Line:  202-219-4152 AS-IA_OPA@bia.gov

Senate Finance Committee To Take Up Tax Extenders Bill

WASHINGTON– This Thursday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance will markup a tax bill, entitled the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency Act.

The bill addresses tax provisions that either expired at the end of 2013 or will expire at the end of 2014.

Tax provisions contained in the bill can help attract businesses to the Navajo Nation and are: (1) the Indian employment tax credit; (2) the accelerated depreciation for business property on an Indian reservation; (3) the Indian coal production tax credit; and (4) the new markets tax credit. If passed, the bill would extend all of the tax credits for two years, through Dec. 31, 2015.

In recent years, Congress has extended the temporary tax provisions either just before they expired at the end of the year, or would pass a bill to retroactively extend them early the following year.

An important provision for Indian country, the general welfare exclusion for tribal programs is not contained in the bill.

For more information contact Navajo Nation Washington Office government and legislative affairs associate Carolyn Drouin at cdrouin@nnwo.org or at 202-682-7390.

Navajo Leaders Testify before Congress on Land Division Bill

WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation Speaker Johnny Naize (Low Mountain, Many Farms, Nazlini, Tachee/Blue Gap, Tselani/Cottonwood) and Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau) testified today before the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs regarding HR 3822, the Fort Wingate Land Division Act of 2014.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., introduced the bill in January as an alternative to a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., in the 112th Congress. The bill is a result of collaborative effort between the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo to resolve differences over a longstanding issue.

HR 3822 seeks to return tribal lands to the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo as previously agreed to by both tribes in a 1997 memorandum of agreement.

“Our land is everything to our people, to our culture and to our way of life. The bill reflects the beginning of a long awaited close to dividing land. This land represents an important historic and cultural legacy. It was at Fort Wingate where our Navajo Code Talkers were first inducted into the defense of the United States,” stated Speaker Naize.

Speaker Naize thanked Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska and Rep. Luján for their strong representation of the Navajo Nation, for help in resolving the land division and for introducing a better alternative to the Pearce legislation. HR 3822 reflects a plan that was mutally agreed upon by the Navajo Nation Fort Wingate Task Force and Zuni representatives.

During his testimony, Delegate Yazzie underscored local chapter opposition to the bill.

Speaker Naize emphasized that the Navajo Nation Council has not opposed or supported the measure.

“Throughout the process the Navajo Nation advocated strongly for its interests and this end result, while not perfect, represents a good faith effort by both tribes,” said Speaker Naize.

Speaker Naize suggested several changes and corrections to the bill based on community input. Notably, both Speaker Naize and Delegate Yazzie emphasized the need to restrict gaming and address environmental concerns.

In closing, Chairman Young emphasized the need to bring this matter to an end to avoid the land returning to the public sphere.