Dozens attend event for land buy-back program
FARMINGTON — Owners of land parcels on the Navajo Nation received information Tuesday about the return of the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.
The buy-back program is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, in coordination with the Office of Special Trustee for American Indians and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Its intent is to purchase fragmented land held in trust for tribal members at fair market value. The fragmentation of these tracts of land has resulted in hundreds of landowners, spanning more than one generation.
The program is a component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion for the Trust Land Consolidation Fund to purchase these areas.
Participation in the program is voluntary, and the event Tuesday at San Juan College was to inform landowners about its return to the Navajo Nation, program officials said.
Sophia Alvarez, program specialist with the Albuquerque office, said the session is part of the outreach phase. Offers to purchase areas will be mailed to landowners this year.
Larry Rodgers, the Eastern Navajo Land Commission's executive director, said the first round of offers will be made in early summer to landowners from Arizona and Utah and from the Alamo Ramah and Tóhajiilee chapters.
The next round will focus on landowners in the main area of the Eastern Agency, Rodgers said.
A challenge the program faces is locating contact information for 2,366 landowners on the Navajo Nation whose whereabouts are unknown.
Virginia Moore, fiduciary trust officer for the Gallup location of the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, said the list includes names of deceased individuals because relatives have not reported their deaths to the office.
"It's very important that your information is current. Your address, your name, your date of birth," Moore said.
Besides information about the program, attendees were informed about alternatives to the program, such as developing wills, and financial planning if they decide to participate.
Shawn Spruce, financial education consultant for First Nations Development Institute, said it is unfortunate the institute has heard of incidents where people were taken advantage by businesses and fraudulent activity after receiving proceeds from selling their land.
"If you don't have a plan, you'll be surprised how quickly a little money here and a little money there goes," he said.
This is the second time the program is taking place on the Navajo Nation. It initially took place from 2015 to 2016.
Outreach event schedule
There are four outreach sessions scheduled this month and in May.
• Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Goulding's Lodge in Oljato-Monument Valley, Utah.
• April 18 from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Red Rock Park's auditorium in Church Rock.
• May 14 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. MDT at Twin Arrows Casino Resort's Diné events center ballroom near Flagstaff, Arizona.
• May 16 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute's gymnasium, 9169 Coors Blvd., in Albuquerque.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.