U.S. Gov’t Agrees to Pay $3.4B to Native Americans in Lawsuit
According to the lawsuit, the Department of Interior mismanaged both land and individual Indian money accounts. More than 20,000 Alaska Natives will be among those compensated.
A $3.4 billion settlement just reached in Washington D.C. could mean a lot of money for Alaska Natives.
The lawsuit, Cobell vs. Salazar, was originally filed in 1996, because of alleged mismanagement of Native lands and Individual Indian Money accounts by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Now, after 15 years, money will be paid to more than 500,000 American Indians including at least 20,353 Alaska Native people.
A video on the settlement website IndianTrust.com features Elousie Cobell, the women who originally brought the lawsuit back in 1996.
She says while working as a treasurer for the Blackfoot Indian Nation in Montana, countless people came to her looking for help getting their money from their Individual Indian Money accounts.
“I tried,” she explains. “I wrote letters constantly, I was back here in Washington, D.C. pounding on doors, and it just never happened. Finally it came to the bottom line where I just decided I was going to sue the United States Government.”
The accounts were set up to make payments on land that has been held in trust by the Federal government since 1887. The government has been managing it, renting it out for farming, mining, grazing leases, and timber sales, and depositing the proceeds into Individual Indian Money accounts.
The lawsuit says the Department of the Interior mismanaged both the lands and the accounts.
“After 14 years of contentious litigation, this is coming to an end for Individual Indian account holders,” says Cobell, “Justice is finally being served.”
In Alaska, settlement officials estimate there are at least 20,353 Native people with Individual Indian Money accounts. Most account holders are from the Southeast parts of the state, but there are an estimated 7,000 in Anchorage alone. Account holders are automatically part of the class action lawsuit, unless they opt out. Average payments under the agreement are about $1,000, but some class members could see $1,500.
Settlement officials believe there could be more Native people eligible for the settlement money in Alaska they do not know about, specifically descendants of account holders.
The settlement for Individual Indian Money account holders is welcome news to Elousie Cobell after 14 years of fighting the federal government. “We have lost so many Indian people that have been waiting for justice for so long, and we cant wait any longer,” she says.
Of the $3.4 billion, $1.5 will be paid to account holders. Another $1.9 billion will go to buy Indian land sold by multiple owners, and $60 million of that will be set up for scholarships.
The notification period for the settlement just started at the end of January. It runs until April 20th. Anyone who wants to be included, or wants to opt out has to notify officials by April 10th.
Known members of the class action will receive information packets in the mail. Anyone else who is unsure of his or her eligibility, or has questions, is urged to call 1-800-961-6109.
Settlement informational meetings are tentatively scheduled for the week of March 28th in both Anchorage and Juneau.
For more information: http://www.indiantrust.com