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 government in the hopes of finding a solution and resolution.
That resolution finally came on Wednesday, Dec. 8 as President Barack Obama signed the Claims Resolution (aka Settlement) Act of 2010 officially bringing the decades-old Indian Trust Fund debacle to a close. Under the Act, $3.4 billion will be provided to settle trust fund accounts and land interests across Indian Country.
“We have achieved a measure of justice and financial compensation for individual Indians whose trust accounts were mismanaged by our government,” Cobell said on Wednesday. “Indians did not receive the full financial settlement they deserved, but we achieved the best settlement we could. This is a bittersweet victory, at best, but it will mean a great deal to the tens of thousands of impoverished Indians entitled to share in its financial fruits, as well as to the Indian youth whose dreams for a better life, including the possibility of one day attending college, can now be realized.”
The Act provided funding and other authorities to handle agreements resulting from settlements of the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit and the Pigford II lawsuit brought by African-American farmers.
“While I am pleased that this Act reflects important progress,” said President Obama, “much work remains to be done to address other claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the Department of Agriculture as well as to address needs of tribal communities.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), chairperson of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, commented, “This is historic legislation. It not only closes the books on a shameful period of history for the federal government, it provides some long delayed justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, named in the original lawsuit, said on Wednesday, “Today, the President has taken another giant step toward fulfilling this Administration’s pledge to meet our trust responsibilities, empower tribal governments and help build safer, stronger and more prosperous tribal communities. These historic settlements mark a new chapter in our work to strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship with Indian Country.”
Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, Pawnee, added, “The agreements reflect the commitment of a wide range of stakeholders, including states, tribes and local communities, to work together constructively with the Administration rather than stay locked in an endless cycle of litigation. Step by step we are making steady progress in empowering Indian Country.”
Salazar related he is establishing a Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform and will consult with tribes on trust responsibilities. “We need to be more transparent and customer-friendly. The status quo is not acceptable.”
Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said, “Today’s ceremony is another concrete example of this administration’s commitment to work with members of Congress to honor our historic, nation-to-nation relationship. Tribal leaders look forward to meeting with the President and his administration next week at the White House Tribal Nations Conference and continue building our vision for strengthening Indian Country.”
For more information, visit www.cobellsettlement.com.