Makah second tribe in Interior buy-back plan

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

NEAH BAY –– The U.S. Department of the Interior will soon offer to buy land from individual property owners on the Makah reservation under a new federal program aimed at helping tribes consolidate ownership.

The Makah reservation is the second in the nation to be part of Interior’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

Over the next 10 years, Interior will use $1.9 billion to buy land once allotted to tribal members that has ownership that has become “fractionated” among heirs of the original owners — meaning some plots are owned by hundreds of people.

The land will then be put into a trust for the tribes.

Dale Denney, Realty officer for the Makah, said the tribe has been allocated $2.55 million to buy fractionated lots within the tribe’s 30,000-acre reservation.

The tribe now has 14 allotments it has appraised to buy under the program.

Under the Dawes Act of 1887, tribal members were given allotments of land by the federal government, Denney said.

As those original owners died, the land was often split among heirs who over time have taken ownership of mere fractions of property.

One particular piece of allotment land now is now owned by 353 owners, Denney said.

“We’re talking places where people own just a few square feet now,” Denney said.

Genevieve Giaccardo, tribal relations adviser for Interior, said the first purchase offers under the program were made late last month to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southern South Dakota.

“It’s exciting to see the numbers with the Makah and Pine Ridge and seeing how things are beginning to work out,” Giaccardo said.

“We have a lot of work to do and a lot of logistics to work out. But these tribes have done a great job of finding ways to make this work.”

Tribal and U.S. officials are hosting a pair of meetings in the Makah Marina conference room, 1321 Bayview Ave. in Neah Bay, on Monday and Tuesday.

Monday’s meeting runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday’s runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The program eventually will be expanded and offered to 150 tribes across the nation, including others on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Meetings to explain the program to tribes in Washington will be Thursday and Friday, Jan. 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Philip Starr Building at the Muckleshoot Wellness Center, 39015 172nd Ave. S.E. in Auburn.

Giaccardo said convoluted ownership complicates decisions about use of land and resources as thousands of owners have to be consulted before decisions can be made.

“This has all been going on for 125 years,” she said. “So there’s a lot of heirs to get in contact with. That’s where the tribes are going to have a lot of work to do.”

The buyback stems from the $3.4 billion class-action settlement in 2012 of a suit brought by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet woman who brought suit against the U.S. government for mismanaging royalties from oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on tribal lands.

The Makah previously received $25 million from that settlement.

Makah Tribal Chairman T.J. Greene testified to the U.S. Senate last month about the tribe’s buyback plans.

Greene said 1,158 letters were sent to owners of the most fractionated allotments to inquire about buying the land.

Through meetings with various interest groups, he said, the tribe decided to focus its purchase on lands that will provide opportunity through timber and other economic development, as well as trying to purchase sacred grounds at Tsooes, a coastal village south of Cape Flattery.

Greene said the 14 lots ready for the buyback were appraised at a total value of $1.5 million.

The tribe has another 12 or 13 allotments prioritized for appraisal.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 11. 2014 6:32PM
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