U.S. Will Settle Indian Lawsuit for $3.4 Billion
Published: December 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — The federal government announced on Tuesday that it intends to pay $3.4 billion to settle claims that it has mismanaged the revenue in American Indian trust funds, potentially ending one of the largest and most complicated class-action lawsuits ever brought against the United States.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the settlement of a lawsuit on Indian trust management.
The tentative agreement, reached late Monday, would resolve a 13-year-old lawsuit over hundreds of thousands of land trust accounts that date to the 19th century. Specialists in federal tribal law described the lawsuit as one of the most important in the history of legal disputes involving the government’s treatment of American Indians.
President Obama hailed the agreement as an “important step towards a sincere reconciliation” between the federal government and American Indians, many of whom, he said, considered the protracted lawsuit a “stain” on the nation.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said, “I pledged my commitment to resolving this issue, and I am proud that my administration has taken this step today.”
For the agreement to become final, Congress must enact legislation and the federal courts must then sign off on it. Administration officials said they hoped those two steps would be completed in the next few months.
The dispute arises from a system dating to 1887, when Congress divided many tribal lands into parcels — most from 40 to 160 acres — and assigned them to individual Indians while selling off remaining lands.
The Interior Department now manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land scattered across the country, with the heaviest concentration in Western states. The government handles leases on the land for mining, livestock grazing, timber harvesting and drilling for oil and gas. It then distributes the revenue raised by those leases to the American Indians. In the 2009 fiscal year, it collected about $298 million for more than 384,000 individual Indian accounts.
The lawsuit accuses the federal government of mismanaging that money. As a result, the value of the trusts has been unclear, and the Indians contend that they are owed far more than what they have been paid.
Under the settlement, the government would pay $1.4 billion to compensate the Indians for their claims of historical accounting irregularities and any accusation that federal officials mismanaged the administration of the land itself over the years.
Each member of the class would receive a check for $1,000, and the rest of the money would be distributed according to the land owned. In addition, legal fees, to be determined by a judge, would be paid from that fund.
Philip Frickey, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in federal Indian law, said that of all the Indian land claims and other lawsuits over the past generation, the trust case had been a “blockbuster” because it is national in scope, involves a large amount of money, and has been long-running.
The lawsuit spanned three presidencies and engendered seven trials covering 192 trial days, generated 22 published judicial opinions, and went before a federal appeals court 10 times.
Over its course, the federal judge originally assigned to the case, Royce C. Lamberth, put contempt orders on two secretaries of the interior over their handling of the lawsuit. In 2006, after the Bush administration complained of bias, a federal appeals court removed Judge Lamberth from the case.
Judge James Robertson has handled it since, and he pushed both parties to negotiate — including brokering a last-minute deal over an undisclosed problem that nearly derailed the settlement late Monday, said David J. Hayes, the Interior Department deputy secretary.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday characterized the case as “intense, and sometimes difficult.”
“The United States could have continued to litigate this case, at great expense to the taxpayers,” Mr. Holder said. “It could have let all of these claims linger, and could even have let the problem of fractionated land continue to grow with each generation. But with this settlement, we are erasing these past liabilities and getting on track to eliminate them going forward.”
The settlement also seeks to resolve an ever-growing headache of the trust system that contributed to the government’s problems — especially in the pre-computer era — in keeping track of the allotments: the original owners, most of whom died without leaving wills, have many heirs, which has “fractionalized” the ownership interests.
For example, one 40-acre parcel today has 439 owners, most of whom receive less than $1 a year in income from it, Mr. Haynes said. The parcel is valued at about $20,000, but it costs the government more than $40,000 a year to administer those trusts.
In an effort to resolve such problems — and prevent them from worsening in subsequent generations — the settlement would establish a $2 billion fund to buy fractional interests in land from anyone willing to sell. The program would seek to consolidate ownership in parcels of land for the tribes, while reducing the Interior Department’s work in keeping track of the trusts.
“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country,” said Ken Salazar, the Interior Department secretary, “and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States.”
Over the years, the plaintiffs have contended that they were owed tens of billions of dollars, while the government has at times taken the position that it owed them little or nothing.
Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff who filed the class-action lawsuit in 1996, said she believed that the Indians were owed more, but that it was better to reach an agreement that could help impoverished trust holders than to spend more years in court. She said she had originally expected the litigation to last only two or three years.
“We are compelled to settle by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each day as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving just compensation,“ Ms. Cobell said.
Robert Clinton, an Arizona State University law professor who specializes in federal Indian law, said the settlement alone would not resolve the trust problem because many of the heirs who own tiny interests in parcels may not be willing to sell them.
Still, the settlement will provide an incentive for such owners to sell: the Interior Department will set aside up to 5 percent of the value of the land interests for a scholarship fund to help Indians attend college or vocational school.
This is so pitiful. A new Incentive to resell the Land via Mis Trust Instruments. I have to give it to the so called Indians because they endured this long purporting to be the Aboriginal Caretakers of this land why not bind themselves in 12 more years of litigation for Welfare rations.
The Conspiracy at ALL ends is never ending. There can NEVER be just compensation when making deals with Criminals. I do not know which is worse, so called Indians that know they are Indigenous to the LAND yet still doing business as Subjects to the very Entity that murdered their Mothers and Fathers OR so called Black people that don’t know that they are the Aboriginal people of the Planet and don’t know it and allow for the misnomered Indians to handle all of OUR (including the misnomered Indians) affairs. GARBAGE!
TITLE 25 > CHAPTER 3 > SUBCHAPTER I > § 71. Future treaties with Indian tribes
No Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty; but no obligation of any treaty lawfully made and ratified with any such Indian nation or tribe prior to March 3, 1871, shall be hereby invalidated or impaired.
Title 25 > Chapter 3 > Subchapter II > § 81 Contracts and agreements with Indian tribes
In this section:
(1) The term “Indian lands” means lands the title to which is held by the United States in trust for an Indian tribe or lands the title to which is held by an Indian tribe subject to a restriction by the United States against alienation.
(2) The term “Indian tribe” has the meaning given that term in section 450b (e) of this title.
(3) The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Interior.
No agreement or contract with an Indian tribe that encumbers Indian lands for a period of 7 or more years shall be valid unless that agreement or contract bears the approval of the Secretary of the Interior or a designee of the Secretary.
Subsection (b) of this section shall not apply to any agreement or contract that the Secretary (or a designee of the Secretary) determines is not covered under that subsection.
(d) Unapproved agreements
The Secretary (or a designee of the Secretary) shall refuse to approve an agreement or contract that is covered under subsection (b) of this section if the Secretary (or a designee of the Secretary) determines that the agreement or contract—
(1) violates Federal law; or
(2) does not include a provision that—
(A) provides for remedies in the case of a breach of the agreement or contract;
(B) references a tribal code, ordinance, or ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction that discloses the right of the Indian tribe to assert sovereign immunity as a defense in an action brought against the Indian tribe; or
(C) includes an express waiver of the right of the Indian tribe to assert sovereign immunity as a defense in an action brought against the Indian tribe (including a waiver that limits the nature of relief that may be provided or the jurisdiction of a court with respect to such an action).
Not later than 180 days after March 14, 2000, the Secretary shall issue regulations for identifying types of agreements or contracts that are not covered under subsection (b) of this section.
Nothing in this section shall be construed to—
(1) require the Secretary to approve a contract for legal services by an attorney;
(2) amend or repeal the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.); or
(3) alter or amend any ordinance, resolution, or charter of an Indian tribe that requires approval by the Secretary of any action by that Indian tribe.
TITLE 25 > Chapter 15 > Subchapter I > § 1301Definitions
(4) “Indian” means any person who would be subject to the jurisdiction of the United States as an Indian under section 1153, title 18, if that person were to commit an offense listed in that section in Indian country to which that section applies.
“Indians” gave up their sovereignty via Domestic Treaties when they allowed themselves to be classified as Indians. All Indian Treaties are considered in law as Domestic Treaties subject to the U.S. The claim to be Indian is a claim to be a U.S. Corporate/Citizen/ Subject.
We all need to get an International Grip on our Affairs before it is too late. Indians cannot do this without us (so called Blacks) nor without the permission of the U.S. and therefore must succumb to the confines of the U.S Judicial System to seek remedy.
Moors have been making Treaties long before we even recognized the U.S (in fact to further pursue their Colonization Efforts in the West they had to hide that fact that the Murakush Empire had treaties with the so called Indians and they have done their best to eliminate any information surrounding these facts) and will continue to do so long after the U.S. Corporation is totally eradicated.
“The key of civilization was and is in the hands of the Asiatic Nations.” Chapter 45 of ‘The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple of America’. At least the “Indians” define themselves via Nation Constructs. We are just BLACK and or AFRICAN/AMERICAN 14TH Amendment Citizens/Subjects.
Tired of Settling.
Running out of Time.
Please Wake Up!
FREE THE LAND MY PEOPLE!