Elouise Cobell provides update about status of trust settlement
Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

Dear Indian Country

This is the fourteenth letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement.

Since my last Ask Elouise letter (August 10, 2010), I have been monitoring the Senate and our representatives have been meeting frequently with Members of Congress and their staffs, both Republican and Democratic, to assess our chances of passage and address concerns raised by some Members. An important part of our efforts included a series of discussions with Senate Indian Affairs Committee staff about concerns raised by Senator Barrasso, which resulted in improvements to the settlement including an additional $100 million to be distributed to low-recovery class members (transferred from funds in the land consolidation fund); additional protection for class members regarding the safety and soundness of the bank holding the settlement funds; and consultation with Indian Country regarding the Secretary’s appointments to the scholarship fund and the identification of fractional interests to be purchased by the land consolidation fund.

With these modifications, I don’t know of any Member who opposes our settlement. It was my belief that such widespread acceptance would lead to passage of legislation authorizing our settlement to go forward. Unfortunately, this was not the case and, once again, we were unsuccessful in getting legislation passed before the Congressional session ended.

The reason our settlement was not passed is singular: The Government has decided that Cobell must be linked to a political settlement between black farmers and the U.S. Government, known as the Pigford II settlement. Pigford I was filed in 1997 as a racial discrimination case against the Department of Agriculture. Pigford II is intended to make up for notice and distribution mistakes in Pigford I and to provide funds for new payouts.

Members of Congress have expressed concern about the Pigford settlement, with some alleging “massive and widespread fraud.” Some Republicans charge that upwards of 75% of all claims are infected.

Since our case has been linked to Pigford by the administration, we have struggled mightily to get through Congress, but the Pigford problem appears insurmountable after over seven months of effort and dedication from all involved. At this late date, with mid-term elections looming, it is unclear whether Pigford’s representatives will be able to convince members of Congress of the fairness of their cause. It is clear that the opposition to Pigford was again sufficient to torpedo our chances of passage this session.

Unfortunately, we are caught in the middle. We have more than broad support in Congress on the merits, but the administration and the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, have refused, to date, to separate our settlement from the newest Pigford settlement. Under these circumstances, passage appears to be impossible. After all these months, it is clear that we can’t carry Pigford, too. As I mentioned in my last open letter, the settlement agreement had been extended through October 15, at which time a status conference will be held by the district court. Congress returns for a lame duck session (following mid-term elections) in mid November. Between now and October 15, I will consult with our attorneys and our champions in Congress to determine if (and how) our settlement legislation can be passed, as well as our options if we determine that there is no reasonable chance of passage.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php.

We also have a "frequently asked questions" section to answer the most common questions we've received: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php.

With so many members of the class, I can’t answer every question that you send. The Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether someone is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet: https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
Telephone: 1-800-961-6109

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Cobell Settlement Documents:
Agreement | Press Release | Q&A | Audio