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Native Sun News: Sorting out Cobell and Salazar settlements

Filed Under: Cobell | National | Trust
More on: bia, doi, native sun news, per caps, south dakota
   

The following story was written and reported by Karin Eagle, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.


Cutline: Tex Hall, left, with Elouise Cobell on Capitol Hill in 2002. The group was attending a meeting of the House Resources Committee on the Indian trust.

Sorting out Cobell and Salazar settlements
By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer

RAPID CITY- The recent rash of unprecedented payouts from different lawsuit settlements in Indian country has brought about more confusion than the economic relief and sense of justice anticipated.

In a recent phone call to Native Sun News, Lakota elder, Marie Conroy Lange, expressed her concerns about what she had mistakenly thought was federal funding coming to the Pine Ridge Reservation. In fact the money she was referring to was the Cobell and Salazar payments made to individuals and also to the tribes.

“I misunderstood what was going on, and I kind of called people and chewed them out because of it,” said Lange. “I’m a very vocal person so I think I owe an apology to those I talked to.”

Lange’s confusion is not uncommon. Many tribal members across Indian country have questions that they would like to have answered in a layperson’s language.

Cobell v. Salazar, was a class action lawsuit about individual Indian land, funds and other assets held in trust by the federal government. Courts have decided that the federal government had violated its trust duties, including a duty to account for Individual Indian Money trust funds. This is where the term IIM accounts come in.

President Barack Obama signed legislation authorizing government funding of a final version of the $3.4 billion settlement in December 2010, opening the door for resolution after fourteen years of litigation.

What the settlement will provide is a $1.412 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund, plus a $100 million Trust Administration Adjustment Fund, plus any earned interest, to pay for Historical Accounting and Trust Administration Claims.

This money will also pay for the cost of administering and implementing the Settlement, as well as other expenses.

$1.9 billion of the settlement is used to create a Trust Land Consolidation Fund to purchase “fractionated” individual Indian trust lands. The program will allow individual Indians to get money for land interests divided among numerous owners. Land sales are voluntary. If you sell your land it will be returned to tribal control.

Up to $60 million is allocated for an Indian Education Scholarship Fund to help Native Americans attend college or vocational school. This money will come out of the $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund and will be based upon the participation of landowners in selling these fractionated land interests. A non-profit organization chosen by the parties will administer the Indian Education Scholarship Fund.

Any remaining funds in the Accounting/Trust Administration Fund, after all distributions and costs relating to the Settlement are paid, will be transferred to the Indian Education Scholarship Fund. Any payments for Class Members that remains unclaimed for five years after Settlement is approved will be transferred to the Indian Education Scholarship Fund.

The proposed Settlement affects individual Indians across the country, including members of most Federally recognized tribes west of the Mississippi River. The Settlement includes two groups or “Classes.” An individual may be a member of one or both Classes. Most people included in the Settlements are members of both Classes.

The Historical Accounting Class involves anyone alive on September 30, 2009 who had an open IIM account any time between October 25, 1994 and September 30, 2009. These accounts have had at least one cash transaction that has not been reversed for any reason.

The Trust Administration Class is made up of those individuals alive on September 30, 2009 who had an IIM account recorded in currently available electronic data in the Federal government systems anytime from approximately 1985 to September 30, 2009. These members need to demonstrate ownership interest in trust land or land in restricted status as of September 30, 2009.

Much of the confusion comes from the titles of the settlement monies being distributed. The “Cobell Checks” as they are commonly referred to, come from the money that was allocated to the individual IIM account holders.

What is referred to as the Salazar Money is the fund that was distributed to the tribes.

Reform of the Indian trust management and accounting system should continue in the future. The Settlement Agreement allows some funds in the Trust Land Consolidation Fund to be used to pay costs related to the work of a commission on Indian trust administration and reform. In the future, Class Members will still be able to bring claims against the federal government for trust reform.

The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs has failed, time after time, to understand the simple fact the many impoverished Indians living on large and isolated reservations do not have the money to buy a computer nor do they have the accessibility to the Internet. By not recognizing this fact the BIA and Interior were woefully inadequate in providing information to the IIM account holders or to the tribes about the Salazar monies. This lack of communications from the powers-that-be and the people has added greatly to the confusion.

This and more information is readily available at the website established to keep members of the lawsuit informed. The website can be found at www.indiantrust.com. You can also call toll free 1-800-961-6109. If you do not have access to the Internet please ask your elected representative or your local office of the BIA to please provide that information to the Native American newspapers that continue to serve Indian country.

(Contact Karin Eagle at staffwriter@nsweekly.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News


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