PENDLETON, Ore. — The Umatilla tribal government in eastern Oregon expects more than 400 tracts of land to come under its control as part of the federal government’s efforts to buy back and consolidate Native American land holdings splintered by 19th century acts of Congress.
The tracts were “fractionated” after they were initially allotted to individual tribal members. The legislation required ownership to be divided equally among heirs, meaning ever larger numbers of people owned ever smaller shares of the property as generations passed.
“If you get down four generations, you have 40 or 50 people,” said Chuck Sams, a Umatilla tribal spokesman. “If one person wants to build, they have to get permission from the other 49.”
The 400 parcels at the Umatilla reservation involve more than 5,000 owners , the East Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1pwrhWY) reported.
As part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Montana, the Interior Department plans to buy back land from willing sellers and hold it in trust for tribes.
Of the total settlement, $1.9 billion has been set aside for the buybacks. Of that, $12 million has been allotted for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. It is one of six tribal nations out of 150 that have signed an agreement with the program so far.
“This is one tool to begin rebuilding the reservation and making it whole again,” Sams said.
There are far more than 400 fractionated properties in the area, but the tribal government’s top priority is buying back land owned by people enrolled in other tribes, he said.
The property might be used for housing or community buildings, depending on its zoning, or it could be added to the 7,000 acres already being farmed for the benefit of the reservation, Sams said.