KBIC has parcels with fragmented ownership

BARAGA – Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on Tuesday joined an initiative to get control of 88 acres of reservation land.

“We’re aware of the Land BuyBack Program,” KBIC President Chris Swartz said, adding the tribe hopes to get a majority ownership of the land.

“For more than 20 years the issue is with what they call allotments,” said Jason Ayres, KBIC real estate officer. “They’re parcels of land given to tribal members by treaty.” He said KBIC issued the first allotments in 1875. “They’ve been passed down from the original owner … for several generations. We’ve got an 88-acre parcel that has over 300 owners,” he said, adding these people actually don’t own the physical land but have a fractionated interest in it.

“It’s a very complicated system,” he said, that can make it difficult to sell or develop.

The goal is to consolidate land that has split ownership, freeing it up for economic development or other uses by tribal governments, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

“This also helps the federal government because they no longer are tracking the interest for the individuals,” Ayres said. “It’s much easier.”

The United States Department of the Interior’s Land Buyback Program involves 105 Indian communities and has paid more than $742 million to landowners since 2013. Federal officials warned the $1.9 billion program will run out of money, and they’ll need to go back to Congress to work out a solution before it expires in 2022, the AP reported.

Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor told the AP Tuesday that time limits and the money available from the settlement “do not provide enough to consolidate all fractional interests across Indian Country.”

Connor has been told by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to craft options by early July for extending the life of the program that could include bumping back the expiration date, adding more money or some combination of the two, Interior spokeswoman Treci Johnson told the AP.