Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Terry Anderson: BIA policies restrict tribal economic growth





"When Supreme Court Justice John Marshall described the relationship between Indians and the federal government in 1831 as that of "a ward to his guardian," he sent Native Americans on a path of dependency and poverty. To this day, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the trustee of Indian assets. Unfortunately, it has not served Indians well.

As trustee, the federal government collects revenue from reservation resources such as land, timber and minerals and deposits it into trust accounts for individual Native Americans. Lax accounting, however, led to a class-action suit against the government in 1996. In 2009 the case of Cobell v. Salazar was finally settled for $3.4 billion—far less than the $176 billion that Indian plaintiffs claimed they were owed.

From the settlement, $1.4 billion is to go to individual Indians with checks ranging from $500 to $1,500, and $1.9 billion is to purchase land from individual Indians and turn it over to tribes. The BIA contends that the land transfer will save on the bureaucratic cost of administering the land and free up budgets "to serve other Tribal needs."

Get the Story:
Terry L. Anderson: At Last, Some Bright Spots in Indian Country (The Wall Street Journal 3/23)