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Under the watchful eyes of Chief Charlo, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes about the Native American Land Buy-Back Program in August in Pablo.

MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

When the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue held a forum in Missoula in January for Native American land owners, it attracted twice as many people as expected, and their questions went far beyond the royalties and minerals ONRR personnel could address.

So they’re doing it again, this time on Thursday, April 16, at the Payne Family Native American Center on the campus of the University of Montana.

And this time, in addition to ONRR, there will be representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians.

“Each agency has a specific role,” says Tom Piccirilli, a mineral revenue specialist with ONRR who has been doing outreach work for 20 years. “The BIA is the leasing agency, the BLM is the eyes and ears on the ground, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue collects the royalties and does audits, and the Office of the Special Trustee gets the money to the owners.”

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The forum is for individual Native Americans property owners whose land is held in trust by the federal government, and is open to anyone who falls into that category, regardless of what tribe they belong to or where their allotment is located.

Piccirilli says representatives will be able to answer questions about the royalty calculation and payment process, and factors that cause royalties to fluctuate. They can address split estates, where, for instance, one person owns the surface and another owns the mineral rights. They can explain the proper way for an individual to pass on land to children now, continue receiving royalties and have the royalties transfer to the children without delay when the individual dies.

“We can even explain fracking if the question comes up,” Piccirilli says.

Royalties are paid for a number of reasons, including leases for oil, gas and minerals, leases for agricultural purposes, and leases for rights-of-way.

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Representatives will also be able to answer questions about the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations.

The buyback program is part of the Cobell settlement. The settlement set aside $1.9 billion to be used to purchase fractionalized interests in land initially allotted to an individual Indian.

As the generations have passed and land has been handed down to heirs, there are instances where a single property now has hundreds of owners. The buy-back program consolidates the land and returns it to the tribes, paying fair market value for it.

People who attend the forum, which is free, are asked to bring along any documents and paperwork associated with the land being held in trust for them by the federal government.

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