Some Navajo land divided among hundreds of owners

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WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — The Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior is set to return next year to the Navajo Nation.

The intent of the program is to purchase fragmented land held in trust for tribal members at fair market value.

The program was developed as part of the Cobell Settlement with the intent to consolidate tribal land that has been fractured, which is a result of dividing land into individual allotments or tracts.

Because of the process used, an area can be divided among hundreds of owners, and claims can span more than one generation.

Participation in the program is voluntary, and those who decide to participate receive purchasing offers from the Interior Department.

Critics of the program have criticized the handling of appraisals because evaluations are only done on the land's surface, potentially undercutting pricing if minerals or other natural resources are underground.

The announcement about the program's return was made in a June 22 press release from the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

Plans to finalize an agreement between the tribe and the Interior Department for the program's return is set for October, and efforts to contact land owners would start in February, the release states. 

For the second round, tribal President Russell Begaye requested more personnel and resources from the Interior Department. His request was made during a meeting with Interior Department officials on June 21, according to the release.

"We need additional resources and additional outreach efforts to make sure landowners know their options. This program can make a big difference on (the Navajo Nation), but only if landowners are informed and understand what the purchase offers mean," Begaye said in the release.

John McClanahan, director for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, said the program wants to send as many offers as possible as well as contacting those who were not contacted in the first round.

The land buy-back program operated and conducted public information sessions for the Navajo Nation from April 2015 to January 2017.

The program had made offers to 25,509 individuals on the Navajo reservation, and 11,084 individuals had accepted offers as of June 22, according to the program's cumulative sales data.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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