The Department of the Interior announced today a $3.4 billion settlement in a landmark lawsuit over federal mismanagement of American Indian trust funds. Elouise Cobell, a Browning resident and member of the Blackfeet Tribe, has spearheaded the suit—believed to be the largest ever filed against the government—since litigation began in 1996.
At a press conference at the Department of the Interior this morning, Cobell said American Indians did not get the full financial sum owed them, but the agreement will still benefit tens of thousands of impoverished people. Under the settlement, the government will distribute $1.4 billion to 300,000 American Indians to compensate them for past accounting claims. The settlement creates an additional $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund, which will be used to buy increasingly divided land interests from individuals and reduce the number of trust accounts overseen by the government.
"This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in the department's statement.
President Barack Obama issued a statement this morning referring to the settlement as an important step in "sincere reconciliation between the trust beneficiaries and the federal government." Former Lee Enterprises news reporter Jodi Rave posted the president's word to her blog.
"As a candidate, I heard from many in Indian Country that the Cobell suit remained a stain on the Nation to Nation relationship I value so much," Obama continues. "I pledged my commitment to resolving this issue, and I am proud that my Administration has taken this step today."