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"Pilot" Tribe In Oregon Not Concerned Over Land Buyback Setback

Flickr.com's Edson Martins.

A federal program that aims to return land on Indian reservations to tribal control is expected to run short.  But at least one Oregon tribe says it’s unlikely to be affected.  KLCC’S Brian Bull reports.  


Under a 2009 settlement, the Obama Administration is spending $1.6 billion to buy parcels of land with multiple owners, and transfer them to tribal governments.  But an Interior Department report says when the money runs out in 2022, over 4 million eligible acres will remain.

Chuck Sams is spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.  He says they were the prototype for breaking up communal lands for individual ownership, back in 1885. 

Credit Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Chuck Sams, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

  “The Slater Act, which predated the Dawes Act by two years – was used as an example of how to break up reservations into checkerboard ownership," explains Sams.

"So we were one of the first tribes to negotiate and come into agreement with the Department of Interior on the land buyback program and it’s actually been very successful here on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.” 

Sams says 87 percent of tribal members have positively responded, giving 10,000 acres of land back to tribal stewardship. 

Backers hope Congress will make the program permanent, which would enable more land purchases.

Another Oregon tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs was contacted for this story, but did not respond by deadline.

Disclosure:  KLCC reporter Brian Bull is a member of Idaho’s Nez Perce tribe, which is involved with the buyback program.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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