By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Several weeks after the Senate passed a similar bill, the House passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 on Tuesday, Nov. 30 bringing the decades-old Indian Trust Fund debacle one step closer to being settled. By a margin of 256-152, the House passed the bill which will provide $3.4 billion to settle trust fund accounts across Indian Country.
“This is truly an historic day in Indian Country as well as in America’s history,” said Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the Indian Trust Fund lawsuit. “By Congress placing a seal of approval on this settlement, a monumental step has been taken to remove a stain on our national honor, and create a better future for Indians as our government begins to make some amends for grave past injustices.”
The bill now heads to the desk of President Barack Obama who is expected to sign the legislation. “I am pleased that today, the House has joined the Senate in passing the Claims Settlement Act of 2010. This important legislation will fund the agreements reached in the Pigford II lawsuit, brought by Native American farmers, and the Cobell lawsuit, brought by Native Americans over the management of Indian trust accounts and resources.”
The original lawsuit (Cobell v. Salazar), dubbed the Cobell lawsuit, was filed June 10, 1996 and was finally settled last year.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) is the chairperson for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and was happy with the House passage of the bill. “For over a century, the federal government mismanaged, lost, and even stole billions of dollars it held in trust for individual American Indians. Final congressional approval of the Cobell v. Salazar settlement is long overdue and historic. But, it is much more than that. It is a victory for justice.”
Attorney General Eric Holder commented, “Bringing this litigation to a close has been a priority for this Administration, and today’s vote in Congress is a significant, historic achievement.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who was named in the original lawsuit, said, “The settlements honorably and responsibly address long-standing injustices and represent a major step forward in President Obama’s agenda to empower tribal governments, fulfill our trust responsibilities to tribal members and help tribal leaders build safer, stronger, healthier and more prosperous communities.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a member of the Chickasaw Nation and the only American Indian in Congress, commented, “This legislation brings a fair and responsible resolution to the Cobell case and is a great bargain for American taxpayers. Today’s approval of the Cobell settlement is a historic development for Native American communities, which will finally receive just compensation for decades of unfair government mismanagement of their lands.”
For more information on the history of the suit and the settlement itself, visit www.cobellsettlement.com.