Yesterday, the Blackfeet Nation sent a strongly worded letter (read it here) blasting that action and saying it “stands 100 percent” behind the settlement as originally announced in December.
Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell is Blackfeet. The case involves compensation – albeit at a level well below the actual damage estimated – to Indian people for generations of U.S. government mismanagement of royalties from their lands.
As Indian Country Today’s Rob Capriccioso reports here, the National Congress of American Indians wrote U.S. Senate leaders uring consideration of an amendment propoesd by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
The letter signed by NCAI president Jefferson Keel said Barrasso’s proposal to cap legal fees in the case reflected “legitimate concerns that have come from the grassroots in Indian country.”
Capriccioso explains the complex issue:
On lawyers’ fees, one of the most contentious areas in Indian country regarding the deal, the NCAI letter specifically said: “The settlement was accompanied by a side agreement that the federal government would not contest an award of attorney’s fees in a range between $50 to $100 million. These attorneys’ fees have generated considerable discussion. Most account holders will receive an award in the range of $1,500, which is less than what was expected. Over the years, the Cobell plaintiffs have frequently estimated the size of the damages in the hundreds of billions, so disappointment at the size of the award has combined with views about the size of the attorneys’ fees. This is a difficult issue because we also recognize that the Cobell attorneys have worked very hard on the litigation for the last 14 years, and class action attorneys in Indian law cases should be fairly compensated on a par with similar class actions. We suggest that the numbers are not far apart, and an accommodation could be reached.”
The NCAI notes that the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association also favor Barrasso’s amendment.
But the Blackfeet Nation letter states that “The Blackfeet Tribe wants the NCAI to go back to representing the interest of its members Tribal organizations and not to interfere in the lives and livelihood of individual Indian people.”