BIA officials are conducting meetings with tribes over funds rewarded in Cobell case trial
By Hallie Sacks
WASHINGTON- The sixth consultation meeting between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal leaders to discuss the $3.4 billion settlement over mismanaged Indian land royalties by the U.S. government will be held Oct. 6 in Oklahoma City.
Signed by President Barack Obama in December of 2010, after 15 years of litigation, the settlement from the class-action lawsuit brought by Blackfoot leader Elouise Cobell against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of the Treasury will grant over $1.4 billion to a possible 500,000 native land holders; $1.9 billion for tribal members to repurchase land seized at the turn of the 19th century; and over $60 million towards an Indian scholarship fund-- according to Ramsey Dalgleish of the legal administration service, Garden City Group.
“This is a huge, huge case,” said BIA press secretary Nedra Darling. “We are in settlement now working towards consolidation, but to do so several sides have to come together.”
Currently leaders from the BIA are holding regional consultation meetings to involve tribal communities in the planning. “The consultations are progressively moving forward towards ways of implementing the settlement,” said DOI Assoc. Deputy Secretary Megan Conklin in a released statement. “Interior is pleased with the tribal input from these sessions and will continue to work closely with the tribes.”
Beginning last July, the BIA has held five consultation sessions in Montana, Minnesota, Seattle, New Mexico and Arizona respectively. The sixth meeting with be held in Oklahoma City and is open to the public. Due to the success of past meetings, the BIA added a seventh consultation session on Oct. 26 in South Dakota and is extending the period for public comments to November, according to Darling.
The settlement will compensate native people with an Individual Indian Money (IIM) account-- an account held by the federal government that stores money acquired in profits from Indian trust land for the benefit of the account holder. According to the Cobell lawsuit, the government has failed to provide accurate accounting for the IIM accounts; and land management beginning with the Dawes Act in the late 1900’s (when the federal government divided land between many tribal members and seized unused property.)
Though court documents show Cobell intended to win a higher reparation figure, the settlement was signed in order to end over a decade in court rather than delay compensation to elderly tribal members.
“While the money is not as much as we believe we are entitled to, there was no end in sight to this litigation and the settlement will be recognized by native people as an acknowledgment by the federal government that it wronged them by its mismanagement of Indian money and Indian lands,” said Cobell in a released statement after the settlement was signed by the president.
Still, the settlement has yet to be approved and put into action. There are currently two appeals for the court to consider before the agreement will take action. The tribal consultations, however, illustrate progress and cooperation between native and federal governments.