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 federal government in the hopes of finding a solution and resolution.
Now, more than sixteen years later, trust account holders will begin seeing money. A $3.4 billion settlement was reached in 2010 and approved by U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas F. Hogan in June 2011. A total of $1.5 billion is to be disbursed to account holders and the remaining $1.9 billion is is being set in a land consolidation fund.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (defendant named in the original lawsuit) announced on Monday, Nov. 26 the final approval of the settlement and said funds will begin to be disbursed.
“With the settlement now final, we can put years of discord behind us and start a new chapter in our nation-to-nation relationship,” said Salazar. “Today marks another historic step forward in President Obama’s agenda of reconciliation and empowerment for Indian Country and begins a new era of trust administration.”
Sadly, Cobell will not personally see any of the funds as she passed away on Oct. 16, 2011 at the age of 65.
Following Judge Hogan’s approval of the settlement last year, Cobell commented, “For over 100 years, individual Indians have been victimized by the government’s gross mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust and our trust assets, including the income earned on our trust lands. 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.”
GCG, Inc. has been named by a court as the Claims Administrator in charge of disbursing the $1.5 billion to around 500,000 account holders. The money will be put into an account at court-approved JP Morgan Chase bank.
“We will continue to work with GCG to ensure it has the information it needs to make expeditious and accurate payments,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “At the same time, we’re focused on making meaningful improvements to our trust administration so that we’re more transparent, responsive and accountable in managing these substantial funds and assets.”
President Obama commented on the final approval, “I welcome the final approval of the Cobell settlement agreement, clearing the way for reconciliation between the trust beneficiaries and the federal government. While Elouise Cobell, the named plaintiff in this case, is no longer with us, her legacy will be a renewed commitment to our trust relationship with Indian Country. I thank her for her honorable work, and also want to thank the leaders at the Department of the Interior, Justice and Treasury who helped reach this conclusion.”
For information about individual payments, contact GCG, Inc. 1-800-961-6109 or email Info@IndianTrust.com.