Editorial: Preventing future trust mismanagement
"The proposed settlement of the Indian accounting lawsuit would end costly litigation that has spanned three presidential administrations and pump an estimated $27 million into Montana with payments to individual account holders.

The proposed $3.4 billion settlement includes $1.4 billion to settle individual claims from tribal members nationwide. Most would receive $1,500 eventually, if Congress and a federal judge approve the deal.

The other $2 billion is to be used for a 10-year effort to address underlying problems of administering these accounts. The money would go to a consolidation fund to purchase fractions of interest in Indian land from willing sellers. The seller would receive fair value for the land, which would then become tribal property. As an incentive to sell, the federal government also would contribute at least $10 or 5 percent of the purchased land value to a college scholarship fund for Indians.

The federal government already has a program for buying fractionated parcels and giving them to the respective tribe. However, Indian land interests have been dividing faster than the program has been able to buy them.

Would this new consolidation effort be any more successful?

The new Trust Land Fund that the settlement agreement proposes would be “massively larger” than the program already established by law, according to Department of Interior spokesman Frank Quimby. Last year, there was no money at all for purchasing fractionated interests. In the current fiscal year, the budget is only $3 million."

Get the Story:
Gazette opinion: Will Cobell v. Salazar prevent future trust problems? (The Billings Gazette 12/13)

Relevant Documents:
Agreement | Press Release | Q&A | Audio

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