Wisconsin’s Bad River Indian tribe will be part of a new federal effort to return reservation lands to tribal ownership.
Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor said Thursday that 21 Indian communities in 12 states — including the Bad River tribe near Ashland — would join the federal land buy back program by 2017. That will increase the number of locations in the program to 42.
The government is spending $1.9 billion to restore land to tribal interests. It’s part of a $3.4 billion settlement of a class action lawsuit in 2009 by the late Elouise Cobell of Montana. The suit claimed that the Interior Department mismanaged trust funds which the government held for hundreds of thousands of Indian property owners.
The Dawes Act of 1887 split Indian lands into individual allotments which multiple heirs inherited with each passing generation. As a result, some reservations have parcels owned by up thousands of Indians — making it all but impossible to develop the properties. The buy back program consolidates ownership of the affected parcels under tribal governments.