Hundreds of thousands of Native Americans will soon receive Cobell settlement monies
Three years after the government and individual Indians announced their historic settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar class action lawsuit, payments will begin to be distributed to hundreds of thousands of individual Indian trust beneficiaries.
The first payment to each member of the Historical Accounting Class, which consists of approximately 350,000 beneficiaries, will be $1,000.00 and these funds should be distributed before the end of this year, lawyers for the Indians announced today.
The landmark settlement resolves certain claims related to the government’s mismanagement of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts and land held in trust solely for the benefit of individual Indians.
The distributions were delayed by appeals undertaken by four class members. On October 29, 2012, the Supreme Court denied a petition that asked the Supreme Court to set aside the settlement and a second petition was dismissed with prejudice on November 7. The deadline to request reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s decision expired on November 23, 2012.
This marks the end to 17 years of contentious litigation. The late Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation from Montana, filed the lawsuit against the government on June 10, 1996. The end of the appeals allows the U.S. District Court to authorize the parties to implement the settlement agreement.
The $3.4 billion tax free settlement was reached between the Departments of the Interior and Treasury and the individual Indian plaintiffs in December 2009. The settlement resolves both claims arising from the government’s failure to provide an historical accounting of IIM accounts and certain claims that the government mismanaged funds and other trust assets, including royalties, owed to individual Indian class members for oil, gas, grazing, and other leases of individual Indian lands.
The settlement provides a $1.5 billion fund to compensate an estimated 500,000 affected individual Indian trust beneficiaries who have or had IIM accounts or own trust land. The settlement creates two groups of class members eligible to receive money from the fund—the Historical Accounting Class and the Trust Administration Class. The first payments will be to the Historical Accounting Class members and each is eligible to receive $1,000.00; Trust Administration Class members are eligible to receive a minimum of $800 and potentially significantly more based on activity in their IIM accounts. The settlement also creates a $1.9 billion fund to purchase fractionated interests in trust land at fair market value.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has assured Indian Country that the government is “ready to hit the ground running as soon as the Supreme Court makes a decision.” If the government acts promptly, members of the Historical Accounting Class should be able to receive their checks by Christmas, the lawyers said. Trust Administration Class members should receive their payments within ten months after the Historical Accounting Class payments are sent out.
“We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented,” said Dennis Gingold, the lead attorney for the Indian plaintiffs. “We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day.”
More information on the settlement can be found at the Claims Administrator’s website: http://cobellsettlement.com/.