Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Delvin Cree: Cobell brings millions to Turtle Mountain members





Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff of the Cobell v Salazar class action lawsuit would be a happy woman today, knowing beneficiaries in the case will finally be receiving compensation for the mismanagement of individual Indian money (IIM) accounts held in trust by the federal government.

Though payments will not be close to what beneficiaries are owed, many will accept what is being offered. A total of 350,000 beneficiaries will be compensated and will share in the $3.4 billion settlement.

A woman with extraordinary leadership, Cobell battled the government for 15 years before she passed away late last year from cancer. In a case that was filed in 1996, she fought on behalf of individual Indians who have lost royalties due to oil and gas, farming, timber and other activities on their trust lands.

A settlement in the case was announced in December 2009. A $3.4 billion dollar deal was made but opposition in Congress slowed the historical case to a halt. One concern among class members during this time frame was that many have died waiting for Cobell to be settled. As many as 12,000 beneficiaries died before seeing their share of the settlement.

A year later, in December 2010, Congress finally approved the settlement. As the case moved forward through court proceedings a few appeals would be filed by beneficiaries, bringing the settlement to another standing point. The individual appeals would later be thrown out and the case continued to move towards distribution. After the many hurdles in the case, a judge recently ordered payments to 350,000 beneficiaries.

According to the Cobell web site, the settlement will include payouts to two groups of class members:
1) Historical Accounting Class members - Had an open individual Indian money account (IIM) anytime between Oct. 25, 1994 and Sept. 30, 2009.
2) Trust Administration Class members - Had an IIM account recorded in currently available data in federal government systems anytime from approximately 1985 to Sept 30, 2009.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians
As the Cobell settlement moves ahead, members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa have been waiting eagerly as it inches toward the distribution process. Many have interest on fractionated allotments in the state of Montana, northern South Dakota and other areas across North Dakota.

According to David Smith, a member of the Cobell legal team, 350,000 beneficiaries will share in the Cobell Settlement. Of that, 15,441 Turtle Mountain tribal members will benefit from the $1,000 Historical Accounting Class payment with a dollar amount totaling $15.441 million.

The Trust Administration Class payment which will come at a later date. That payment will be paid out to 25,421 from Turtle Mountain. Beneficiaries in the Trust Administration Class will be paid $800 -- plus a share of the balance of settlement funds based on the activity on their trust lands. The total amount is estimated to be around $26.8 million.

Smith also stated there are Historical Accounting Class members whose "whereabouts are unknown and have no contact information. The Cobell web site noted that 40,000 are shown as "whereabouts unknown" and another 10,000 have no contact information in records furnished by the Department of the Interior.

In further information provided by Smith, he said it was important for beneficiaries of the Historical Accounting Class who are not receiving statements on their IIM account to file a Claim before March 1, 2013, a deadline set by the court.

More information is available by calling 2 toll free numbers. 1-800-961-6109 or 1-866-383-6554 or going to the Cobell site www.indiantrust.com. The mailing address is:

Indian Trust Settlement
P.O. Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Delvin Cree is a freelance journalist. He is a daily contributor to indianz.com and Indian Country Today Media Network, both national news sources for Indian Country.