(Editor’s Note: Today is a day for light posting as I spend most of it traveling. Please check back this evening for postings of the day’s events.)
Elouise Cobell, whose name heads the historic Cobell v. Salazar class action case, has been touring the Dakotas this week to answer questions about last fall’s settlement of more than $3 billion in the case. The money is to compensate tens of thousands of Indian people for federal mismanagement of royalty payments due on their lands. The amount, while one of the largest ever in such a case, still falls far short of the roughly $50 billion some estimate is more accurate, and not everyone is happy with the settlement. Here‘s the entire Rapid City (S.D.) Journal story, by Mary Garrigan, on one of Cobell’s sessions this week:
Cobell finalized the proposed settlement in December 2009 after a 14-year legal battle on behalf of more than 300,000 Native American trust land owners. She alleged the Interior Department bungled the accounting on thousands of individual Native trust accounts for more than 100 years.
But as the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the settlement, which Congress must approve and fund by an April 16 deadline, critics began cropping up on Capitol Hill and on reservations in South Dakota.
After a March 8 public meeting in Kyle, where Cobell and two of the attorneys in the 14-year-old lawsuit answered questions about the settlement, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Theresa Two Bulls said Wednesday that “there are a lot of questions” about the settlement throughout her reservation, and she canceled a trip to Washington, D.C., to speak in favor of it.
“I declined to testify at the March 10 hearing. I need to hear from my tribe first. I can’t go there to say yes or no on the settlement,” Two Bulls said during a radio address Wednesday to the tribe, broadcast live on KILI radio.
That’s a departure from Two Bulls’ statement Dec. 11, 2009, in which she said the Oglala Sioux Tribe “fully backs the negotiated settlement of the Cobell case…” and encouraged Congress and the courts to approve the $3.4 billion agreement.
While saying that “it is unfortunate that the amount of settlement falls several billion dollars short of the amount originally sought by the Cobell Plaintiffs,” Two Bulls supported the settlement. “Under the present circumstances, it is the best the allottees and their heirs can hope for and, the best deal they will probably get in Congress,” she said.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council was considering the Cobell settlement during a council meeting that began Wednesday and continues Thursday, but the council had not taken an official position by late afternoon Wednesday, a tribal spokesman said.
Two Bulls said that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe passed a resolution opposing the settlement, but tribal chairman Joseph Brings Plenty could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Critics of the Cobell settlement include Kimberly Craven, a Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal member who owns 55 acres of trust land near Watertown. Craven, an attorney who lives in Colorado, has many questions about the negotiated settlement, including the amounts of money it sets aside for attorney fees (between $50 million and $100 million) and the multi-million-dollar payments that will go to the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell.
“It makes a few people very, very wealthy, including the four named plaintiffs, the attorneys and the class administrator,” Craven said.
Tags: buffalo post, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Cobell v. Salazar, Elouise Cobell, Gwen Florio, Indian trust case, Joseph Brings Plenty, KILI radio, Native American news, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Theresa Two Bulls, U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Interior Department