The first payments from the landmark Cobell land trust misuse settlement will soon be distributed to an estimated 350,000 Natives around the country.
Approximately 350,000 beneficiaries could start receiving $1,000 checks by Christmas as the first part of the settlement goes forward, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
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The agreement will pay out $1.5 billion to two classes of beneficiaries. Each member of the first class would be paid $1,000. Each member of the second class would be paid $800 plus a share of the balance of the settlement funds as calculated by a formula based on the activity in their trust accounts.
Nearly 12,000 Alaska Natives are elligible to receive payments, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.
However, payments to most Alaska Natives would not be based on an accounting of such royalties. Rather, most payments in Alaska would be “basic allocations” of $500 each in exchange for dropping any potential claims against the federal government, according to officials who described the settlement to Congress in 2009.
A Department of the Interior official testified then that 5,365 Alaska Natives were included in the case.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs estimated the number could be 12,000 or more. Many Alaska Natives obtained land individually under the 1906 Native Allotment Act, but decisions about the land remained subject to Interior Department approval. The act gave each adult Native head-of-household the right to apply for up to 160 acres of “non-mineral land” until 1971, when Congress ended the program with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Elouise Cobell fought for 17 years for the settlement before she died of cancer last year.
The Blackfeet leader observed that those who leased Indian land made money from its natural resources, while the Indians themselves remained in poverty with no accounting of the royalties from that land that were held in trust for them by the government.
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“We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented,” lead attorney Dennis Gingold said in a statement Monday. “We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day.”