Sen. Max Baucus press release on Claims Settlement Act
The following is a press release from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana).

Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus applauded passage in the House of Representatives today of his legislation to finalize a settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar class action lawsuit. Baucus’ plan to settle the decades-old lawsuit involving the mismanagement of more than 300,000 American Indians’ trust accounts is now set to become law after unanimous passage by the Senate earlier this month. Baucus’ bill also includes U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s bill to ratify the Crow water rights compact.

“The passage of this bill will finally provide a long-overdue conclusion for hundreds of thousands of folks in Indian Country who have waited too long for justice. I want to thank Elouise Cobell for her tireless effort and advocacy in the name of so many others who could not fight for themselves,” Baucus said. “Still the fight is far from over. This settlement serves as a reminder that we have a trust obligation to American Indians and we have a responsibility to keep fighting for good paying-jobs and education in Indian Country.”

In December 2009, the parties in the Cobell lawsuit agreed to settle the case, but federal lawmakers had yet to fund the settlement until today. Baucus has been working for months to secure an agreement to finalize the settlement, which includes funding to resolve historical accounting and damage claims, establish a Trust Land Consolidation Fund and support Indian Scholarships.

Montana Blackfeet Tribal member Elouise Cobell, who first brought the suit against the federal government, expressed joy and gratitude after today’s final passage by the House.

“I’m thankful to Senator Baucus for keeping his promise to fight for closure on this issue. Today marks the end of a bittersweet chapter for Native Americans. While I am sad too many beneficiaries passed away while waiting for this resolution, I am proud to know that the end of this ordeal is nearly here. This legislation presents an opportunity for the government to recommit itself to finally fulfilling its fiduciary duties to over 500,000 individual Indian trust beneficiaries,” Cobell said.

The legislation passed today also ratifies the Crow-Montana Water Rights Compact, which outlines the tribe’s authority over distributing, allocating and leasing water rights. It also provides funding for the development of water resources for irrigation, power, and other uses.

Tester negotiated with Wyoming’s senators for an entire year on details of the agreement. Baucus, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, made funding available to implement the settlement agreement, built a bi-partisan compromise around the package that passed today, and led the successful effort to push the bill through the Senate.

The bill will now be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.