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Editorial: Bush administration proposes to settle nothing
Friday, March 9, 2007
Filed Under: Cobell | Opinion

Here we go again. After delaying a response for more than a year, the Bush administration has finally offered to "settle" the Cobell trust fund case and resolve more than a century of mismanagement by pretending it never existed.

The March 1 letter from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is not only a bad proposal, it's an insult. The two Cabinet members have the gall to say the administration "is willing to invest up to $7 billion" in Indian Country.

Excuse us, but it's not your money to "invest." It's money that belongs to Indian people and is owed to them for the federal government's failure to do the job properly.

Oh, did you catch that? Kempthorne and Gonzales say the administration will invest up to $7 billion over ten years.

They aren't even promising an actual dollar amount! What is this, deal or no deal? BITAM sounds like a well-thought out plan compared to this embarrassment contained in three pages of empty action. At least BITAM had charts.

And even without committing to a settlement figure, we have Jim Cason, the top non-Indian in charge of Indians, taking issue with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), who called the offer an "admission" of a multi-billion dollar liability.

But no, Cason says the offer isn't an admission of anything. Talk about arrogance.

The proposal is even more laughable considering that Special Trustee Ross Swimmer loves to remind Indian Country every chance he gets that the Cobell lawsuit is only about an accounting. It's not about asset mismanagement, land mismanagement, rights-of-way or other issues, he has repeatedly said.

Then why does it seek to end more than 250 tribal trust cases, pay for trust reform, transfer all management duties to tribes and individual Indians and eliminate the government's liability? That's a lot of work just for an accounting.

"The Kempthorne-Gonzales letter is a license to steal from Indian people. And, while the Interior Department has a long and notorious history of cheating, swindling and robbing from Indian people, I in all my years have never heard of such a brazen attempt to rob us of our livelihood," said Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case.

It sounds like Swimmer should stick to stuffing papers in that cave in Kansas, which is where this waste of space should end up too. Let's hope Sen. Dorgan and other members of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee reject it and have the courage to pay Indian people what they are rightfully owed.

Settlement Letter:
Kempthorne-Gonzales to SCIA (March 1, 2007)

Elouise Cobell Statement:
NO THANKS, WE’LL TAKE THE ACCOUNTING, INDIAN PLAINTIFFS SAY (March 8, 2007)

Sen. Dorgan Statement:
DORGAN SAYS BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFERS $7 BILLION TO SETTLE SUIT OVER MISMANAGEMENT OF INDIAN TRUST FUNDS (March 6, 2007)

Other Documents:
Alberto Gonzales Testimony (March 1, 2005) | SCIA Views and Estimates (March 1, 2007)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

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