What is Happening with the Cobell Settlement and Tribal Trust Funds?

Jun 20, 2012

Native American Legislative Update - June 2012

What is Happening with the Cobell Settlement and Tribal Trust Funds?

On April 11, Attorney General Holder and Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar announced that the United States had entered in to settlement agreements with 41 tribes in tribal trust claims, alleging that the federal government failed to properly collect from or invest in tribal natural resource assets. The total amount of these settlements is $1.023 billion, the Administration announced in a moving ceremony with tribal leaders of the plaintiff tribes and departmental representatives who participated in the settlement negotiations. A press release about the settlements is available here.

After nearly two years of negotiations, which were initiated in the fall of 2009, these particular tribes now have been awarded funds that should have been available to them - in some cases, for more than 100 years - for the operations of tribal governmental programs and for tribal programs serving Native American citizens. Some 114 tribes filed suit against the federal government and a number of tribes are still negotiating toward their own settlement agreements.

On May 16, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved the settlement agreements for a majority of these 41 tribes. The Court's approval leads to payment to each tribe of an amount based on the tribe's estimate of the money lost because of federal mismanagement of tribal trust assets. Settlement funds will be paid from the judgment fund kept by the Department of the Treasury to each tribe. How those funds will be spent by the tribe - and whether a percentage might be distributed to individual tribal members as per capita payments - is a decision that will be made by each individual tribe.

The related case, Cobell v. Salazar, recovered some monies due to individuals in a class action suit. On May 22, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court in appeals brought by four individuals to stop final approval to the $3.4 billion settlement in the Cobell case. The May 22 actions affirm the decision of the District Court to approve the Settlement following the Fairness Hearing on June 20. If no requests for rehearing are filed in the allotted time period, or if the requests for rehearing are denied, then the Settlement's Final Approval will become effective. Under the Settlement Agreement, a total of $1.412 billion will be distributed to individual Indian beneficiaries, who are expected to receive a minimum of $1,800 each.

More information is available here and here.

See more articles in the June 2012 NALU.

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