A settlement of one of the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed against the United States government would compensate some 300,000 Native Americans for billions of dollars in royalties owed to them over the last century for oil, mineral and grazing rights on tribal lands. But time is running out. The settlement of the 13-year suit will have to be renegotiated if Congress does not approve it by the end of February, according to Legal Times.
A law passed in 1887 conveyed the land in trust to the federal government. Media reports of the settlement note that the government-controlled trust accounts were mishandled and lost, cheating the Indian owners out of their royalties. The settlement in December would pay US $3.4 billion to the Indians, providing partial compensation of US $1.4 billion to individual holders of the trusts, and US $2 billion to other claimants. The sum was a bargain for the federal government and a small fraction of what is actually owed to the tribes, according to the New York Times. According to the Washington Informer report on the suit, the Office of Special Trustee was established by Congress in 1994 to reform financial management of the trust system. Indians sued in 1996, claiming the mismanagement cost them between US $10 billion and US $40 billion. The case endured hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals and several trials over the years. Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Tribe, was the lead plaintiff in the class action suit. Jan/10
Date written/update: 2010-02-20