Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican who is vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is pushing an amendment that would limit attorneys’ fees in the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement.
That agreement, announced in December, would partially compensate hundreds of thousands of Indian people for generations of federal mismanagement of royalties from their lands. It needs congressional approval before people can begin receiving their money, and lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet, says she fears Barrasso’s amendment could sink the entire agreement.
A recent Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune editorial urged Barrasso to drop the amendment, concluding that “Justice has been delayed far too long for many Indian beneficiaries in this long-running lawsuit. Barrasso should listen to the tribal leaders and, at the least, remove himself as an obstacle to resolution.” Here, he responds:
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (AP photo)
Your June 28 editorial, “Senator should drop attempt to alter settlement,” does not accurately describe my participation in the Cobell settlement process.
As vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I have a responsibility to oversee the Cobell legislation before the Senate. In April, I approached Indian tribes across the country to get their feedback about the Cobell legislation.
After listening to the concerns and opinions of Indian Country, I proposed a few key changes to the settlement — including lowering the cap on attorney fees from $100 million to $50 million. This change would allow the additional funding to be distributed among tribal members. Tribal organizations for the Northwest and Great Plains, as well as numerous individual tribal members, have expressed public support for my amendment.
You reported that my effort to amend the legislation would nullify the settlement. In fact, the parties themselves have substantively changed the settlement several times without voiding the current legislation. My changes could be easily incorporated and would directly benefit tribal members.
While I would like to see Congress finalize the Cobell legislation as soon as possible, we should not simply rubber stamp this $3.4 billion agreement. As our country continues to face a $13 trillion deficit, Congress should carefully review and improve any legislation that spends 3.4 billion taxpayer dollars.
SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, Washington, D.C.
Tags: Blackfeet, Browning, buffalo post, Cobell v. Salazar, Elouise Cobell, Gwen Florio, Indian trust case, Native American news, Sen. John Barrasso, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs