WASHINGTON, D.C. - Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced Dec. 8 that his department has settled the Cobell lawsuit for $1.4 billion dollars. Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell brought the now 12-year-old class action lawsuit upon the U.S. Government in 1996 for the historical mismanagement of trust land accounts held by Native Americans. The agreement still needs approval from the federal court hearing the case as does Congress. Secretary Salazar hopes the bill will be introduced by the end of this year.
According to the DOI, litigation will end regarding the Interior Department's performance of an historical accounting for trust accounts maintained by the United States on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Native Americans. A fund totaling $1.4 billion will be distributed to class members to compensate them for their claims, and resolve potential claims that prior U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.
Each individual class member would receive $1,000 each. The Navajo Nation has approximately 42,000 holders of trust lands primarily located in the Eastern Agency.
"This has been a long journey for the Cobell team and the DOI attorneys to negotiate this agreement," said Navajo Nation Vice President Ben Shelly.
"I just hope it's a fair amount for the individual Navajos affected by settlement and help resolve the tribe's own lawsuit regarding mismanagement of trust funds."
Currently working though the courts, the Navajo Nation has a separate case seeking compensation resulting from past DOI trust land fund mismanagement in Utah (see lead story).
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued the following statement regarding the announcement of a settlement agreement.
"The financial mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts has long plagued relations between the U.S. Government and American Indians," Sen. McCain said. "I applaud Secretary Salazar and Attorney General Holder for their leadership in crafting a settlement that promises to bring closure to the Cobell lawsuit. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to determine the next steps for Congressional action on this matter."