CSKT Sees A Few Firsts, Makes Headway In Land Buy Back Program - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

CSKT Sees A Few Firsts, Makes Headway In Land Buy Back Program

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PABLO -

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes make history.

For the first time, the secretary of the interior visits the CSKT reservation and brings some pretty big news.

Now, tribe members have a date for when they can expect offers as part of the land buy back program.

This all started with the $3.4 billion settlement from a 1996 class action lawsuit against the government after Montana tribes found money collected for indian trust accounts were mishandled. Part of that settlement is a land buy back program, where tribal land owners can sell property, giving it to the tribe.

Secretary Jewell says it's often the case that land is passed down from generation to generation and becomes smaller and smaller as it's handed out to more people.

Already the land buy back program has doled out more than $90 million and consolidated about a quarter of a million acres of land. None of that has happened near Pablo yet.

"When a settlement gets done, there's big hoopla, it's a big dollar amount, and everyone thinks 'when am I going to get my money?' The reality is to do that right, to pass the scrutiny that we're held accountable to, we have to set realistic expectations," explained Secretary Jewell.

For the people in Pablo, the new expectation is weeks away. Secretary Jewell says an offer should be in the mail by the first week in September.

"The land buy back program has been a lengthy and difficult process, but I believe we're seeing progress," said Senator Jon Tester.

That's not the end of it, though. To make good on the offer, the Department of the Interior has to get a response within 45 days. If everyone actually does respond, that would require double the amount of money the Department has set aside for CSKT.

"It's darn near impossible for the federal government to do that, but more possible for the tribal government to do that," said Secretary Jewell.

As far as the Cobell settlement money, CSKT chairman Ron Trahan says they've gotten one round of payments, but they're waiting for one more.

"We all know there's more to be done. Checks need to be issued more quickly, and I will continue to hold the Garden City Group accountable for that," said Tester.

The third party in charge of getting the settlement checks out, the Garden City Group, issued a statement a few weeks ago saying checks could be ready as early as this fall.

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