Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Michael Roberts: Investing Cobell money in Indian institutions

"Can Indian country achieve prosperity without risk? Or better yet, are we courageous enough to lead the way to economic prosperity and sovereignty by trusting proven Indian institutions and putting economic control and power in the hands of our own Indian people?

During the payout process from the Cobell settlement, funds will have to be temporarily invested somewhere, so why not invest at least a portion of those funds directly into Indian institutions rather than Wall Street? Are we brave enough to endure a bit more perceived financial risk in exchange for a proven pathway to economic sovereignty? After all, the Cobell case was about non-Indian mismanagement of Indian money. If we have learned anything from history, we have learned that Indian people have historically been economically disempowered by non-Indians in the name of “fiduciary responsibility.”

One percent of $2 billion of the Trust Land Consolidation Fund in the Cobell settlement is $20 million. Let’s require that that $20 million be invested in Indian institutions that have proven for more than 10 years to be effective economic change agents in their Indian communities and have proven to be relatively low risk. I am talking about Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that in the past 10 years have grown in number from two to more than 60, with another 50 waiting for certification in the next year. CDFIs in Indian country, like those throughout the United States, play an important role in enabling locally based organizations to further goals such as economic development (job creation, business development and commercial real estate development), affordable housing (housing development and homeownership), and community development financial services (a provision of basic banking services to underserved communities and financial literacy training)."

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Michael E. Roberts: Cobell and CDFIs (Indian Country Today 3/15)