By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
This fall, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will join hundreds of federally-recognized tribes across the country in receiving funds from a $940 million settlement in a class action lawsuit known as the Ramah Navajo Chapter Settlement. The settlement, which became final on April 25, ended a more than 25-year dispute over contract support costs for tribal agencies.
According to information from Lloyd B. Miller, Co-Class counsel based in Anchorage, Alaska, Class Members (tribes involved in the settlement) could start seeing checks as soon as next month. In all, there are 699 tribes and tribal organizations that are involved in the settlement.
The suit was first filed by the Ramah Navajo Chapter, a sub-unit of the Navajo Nation, in 1990. The Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota and the Pueblo of Zuni joined the suit as class representatives at a later date followed by other tribes throughout the years.
After legal fees and other estimated costs, the total amount for distribution is $854,600,000. In January, estimated amounts for each Class Member were released by the Class Counsel. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is estimated to receive $1,177,741, and the Cherokee Boys Club Inc. is estimated to receive $207,505.
“The Cherokee Boys Club prides itself on over 80 years of dedicated service to the members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee community,” said Cory M. Blankenship, Cherokee Boys Club Board president. “In partnership with the tribal government, the Club has provided essential services in the spirit of self-determination. As a recipient of federal funding for such services, the Club applauds the efforts of those who worked tirelessly on the Ramah Settlement. This action is a significant win for Indian Country and our Tribe, and undoubtedly a step in the right direction in fulfilling the trust obligations of the federal government to Indian tribes across the country as we seek to provide essential services to our members.”
Information from the Class Counsel states, “The Ramah litigation is a class action lawsuit against the BIA over unpaid contract support costs. Two earlier settlements in the case generally dealt with unpaid contract support costs between the years 1989 and 1993. A third settlement in 2008 made adjustments to the system for negotiating indirect cost rates. Earlier settlements left unresolved claims for unpaid contract support costs from 1994 to the present.
“Since 1994, Congress has capped the maximum appropriation the BIA could spend on contract support cost payments. As a result, the BIA long asserted that it could not be held liable for any resulting underpayments. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held that capped ‘not to exceed’ agency appropriations in and after 1994 did not relieve the government of its contract obligation to pay full contract support costs to Indian Self-Determination Act contractors.”
Kevin Washburn, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, said in a comment last fall, “From the tribes’ perspective, underfunding of contract costs is another broken promise. There is no longer any question that we agreed to pay these amounts and we are liable.”