The late Elouise Cobell, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, was the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, which led to a $3.2 billion settlement with the federal government. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Court sets final deadline for remaining payments from Cobell settlement

The overwhelming majority of the $3.4 billion Cobell trust fund settlement has been distributed but some Indian beneficiaries still haven't been paid.

Those beneficiaries, or their heirs, are now facing a court-ordered deadline of November 27 deadline to submit documentation to Garden City Group, the entity that has been administering the settlement since it was approved by Congress.

"The determination of a final deadline marks the end of a successful and exhaustive effort by Class Counsel and GCG to find and pay hundreds of thousands of Native American Class Members and their heirs," a statement on Thursday read. "Those efforts have been incredibly effective, and to date almost $1.2 billion dollars of the funds have been distributed."

The Garden City Group largely relies on the Department of the Interior for information about eligible beneficiaries. But inaccurate and outdated records have prevented all of the funds from going out to Indian Country.

Approximately 30,000 individual Indians are among those who haven't received their share of the settlement. The Garden City Group maintains a database that contains names and tribal affiliations, where available, of those considered "whereabouts unknown."

If these and other individuals cannot be located by November 27, their shares will be transferred to the Cobell scholarship fund, according to the provisions of the settlement. Checks that have been mailed but haven't been cashed by the deadline also will go to the fund.

The deadline, though, does not affect the estates of deceased beneficiaries that are still being processed by Interior.

The $3.4 billion settlement included about $1.4 billion in direct payments to individual Indians. Most received around $1,800 though many were paid more, based on the activity in his or her trust fund account.

Another $1.9 billion was set aside for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. That fund is almost exhausted after putting another $1.2 billion in the hands of individual landowners.

The settlement resolved the federal government's failure to provide a full historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust, which dates to the late 1800s. The settlement also resolved underpayment and related claims from the inception of the trust through 2009.

The settlement does not affect post-2009 claims that may be raised with regard to the trust fund.

Join the Conversation