By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana, decided in 1996 that enough was enough and she was tired of not having a resolution to the Indian Trust Fund situation. On June 10 of that year, she filed a lawsuit (Cobell v. Salazar) against the government in the hopes of finding a solution and resolution.
President Barack Obama signed the Claims Resolution (aka Settlement) Act of 2010 bringing the decades-old Indian Trust Fund debacle to a close on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010. And, following a fairness hearing on Monday, June 20, U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas F. Hogan gave the final approval to the settlement.
“For over 100 years, individual Indians have been victimized by the government’s gross mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust and and our trust assets, including the income earned on our trust lands,” Cobell said via telephone at the hearing on Monday.
“In closing, 124 years of abuse of our trust is enough,” said Cobell. “Fifteen (15) years of intense, difficult litigation is more than enough. Too many of us have died without justice. Any more delays will mean that still more will die without justice. Enough is enough.”
Under the settlement, $3.4 billion will be provided to settle trust fund accounts and land interests across Indian Country. The Act itself provides funding and other authorities to handle agreements resulting from settlements of the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit as well as the Pigford II lawsuit brought by African-American farmers.
“After fifteen years of litigation, today’s decision marks another important step forward in the relationship between the federal government and Indian Country,” President Obama said Monday. “Resolving this dispute was a priority for my Administration, and we will engage in government-to-government consultations with tribal nations regarding the land consolidation component of the settlement to ensure that his moves ahead at an appropriate pace and in an appropriate manner.”
Judge Hogan said in a statement following the announcement of his decision, “I am certainly not convinced that a better result could be achieved by taking it to all the way to trial. It’s hard to see there could be a better result.”
Secretary Ken Salazar, named in the original lawsuit, commented, “Judge Hogan’s decision is another milestone in empowerment and reconciliation for the American Indians. The Cobell settlement not only resolves the contentious 15-year litigation, but also honorably and responsibly turns the page on an unfortunate chapter in the Department’s history, demonstrating President Obama’s commitment to reconciliation and empowerment for American Indian nations.”
For more information on the case and settlement or to find out if you qualify, visit www.IndianTrust.com or 1-800-961-6109.