Posts Tagged ‘Cobell v. Salazar’

The federal judge who extended the deadline for congressional approval of the $3.4 billion settlement in the Indian trust case says the judgment is “well deserved” and that he’s disappointed it hasn’t been approved.

On Tuesday, Senior Judge Thomas Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia extended the deadline for the necessary congressional approval to Oct. 15. It’s the sixth extension since the settlement was announced in December.

But, he said, “The disappointment of not having the legislation implemented is great,” and urged the Senate “to act as promptly and as expeditiously as possible,” according to this National Law Journal story by Mike Scarcella:

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

    The suit, filed in 1996 by plaintiff Elouise Cobell, who attended the status conference Tuesday, seeks a historical accounting of individual Indian money accounts managed by the Interior Department. The settlement, which includes $1.41 billion in compensation for the plaintiffs, stalled in the Senate earlier this year. Concern was raised over attorney fees in the case. Fees are capped at $100 million. …

    Robert Kirschman Jr. of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in court the administration remains “very committed” to the settlement. “We are hopeful the settlement legislation will be enacted and will be enacted in the near future,” said Kirschman, deputy director of the Commercial Litigation Branch.

Dennis Gingold of Washington, D.C., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that “We want this to be done or too many people will suffer.”

Gwen Florio

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Elouise Cobell and attorney David Smith explain details of the $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement at a public meeting held on the Salish and Kootenai College campus in Montana back in April. Approval of the settlement funding by Congress has been delayed, most recently in the Senate last week. “We need help in Congress,” she said then in a statement that still applies. (LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

Elouise Cobell and attorney David Smith explain details of the $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement at a public meeting held on the Salish and Kootenai College campus in Montana back in April. Approval of the settlement funding by Congress has been repeatedly delayed, most recently in the Senate last week. “We need help in Congress,” she said then in a statement that still applies. (LINDA THOMPSON/Missoulian

Cobell, supporters look to next move in wake of Senate rejection of settlement
The latest setback for congressional approval of the $3.4 billion lawsuit settlement on Native American trust accounts will send its supporters back to the House of Representatives to try again, Mary Garrigan of the Rapid City Journal writes here. Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Browning, Mont., has expressed faith in the backing of House Speker Nancy Pelosi, and South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson has vowed to work toward approval.


Oklahoma universities No. 1 in Native college grads

Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma led the list of schools graduating Native Americans last year, the Oklahoman reports here. That’s according to a report by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, which also showed that Oklahoma universities made up six of the top 12 schools, and 12 of the top 100.

Author, filmmaker talks on Native military service
The the history of American Indians and the military is the topic of a lecture tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center, in Banning, Calif. Gary Robinson, a writer and filmmaker of Choctaw and Cherokee descent, is the co-author of the 2008 book, “From Warriors to Soldiers: A History of American Indian Service in the U.S. Military.” His short film, “I Am the Warrior,” won third place in the 2009 national Veterans Day short film competition hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian, according to the Banning Record Gazette, here.

Vermont panel on tribal recognition seeks new members

The Burlington Free Press writes here that “a new law that sets up a process for state recognition of American Indian tribes in Vermont has revised the makeup of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and has that panel seeking nine new members.” Gov. Jim Douglas is to appoint the new members by Sept. 1.

Gwen Florio

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Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Indian trust lawsuit representing the interests of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, issued the following statement concerning last night’s U.S. Senate rejection of the $3.4 billion settlement in that case (see post here):

    Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

    Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

    BROWNING, Mont., July 23 — On July 1, 2010, the House of Representatives passed HR4899 – Disaster/War Supplemental Appropriations. It included legislation to approve the Cobell v. Salazar individual Indian trust settlement. Late last night, however, the Senate stripped from HR 4899 all domestic spending provisions, including our settlement legislation, notwithstanding that the domestic spending provisions are fully paid for. The stripped version of the bill returns to the House for further consideration. This is the second time in two months that the Senate has failed to act on settlement legislation although it is fully paid-for and had been expected to pass if put to a vote.

    As a result of Senate action, legislative approval of our settlement, once again, is in the capable hands of House leadership, which steadfastly has supported us since settlement with the government was reached on December 7, 2009. We have great confidence in Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer and believe that they will continue to ensure that 500,000 individual Indians finally are provided justice that is long overdue. We are depending on them.

Rob Capriccioso of Indian Country Today has this story about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s criticism of Republicans who helped ax the settlement – and also about the response from Republicans, notably Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, the most vocal opponent of some of the settlement’s provisions.

That story mentions that hopes for eventual approval are not dead, as does this piece by the Blog of Legal Times (aka BLT).

That piece reiterates that the most recent deadline – there have been many, with many delays – for congressional approval of the settlement is Aug. 6.

As always, stay tuned.

Gwen Florio

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Here’s the entire story from the Associated Press:

Elouise Cobell in Washington, D.C., last December, when the settlement was announced. Congressional approval has proved elusive. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Elouise Cobell in Washington, D.C., last December, when the settlement was announced. Congressional approval has proved elusive. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. Senate has rejected a $3.4 billion government settlement with American Indians that had been added to a much larger war-funding bill.

The Senate passed the almost $60 billion bill funding President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan late Thursday — but not before stripping out the settlement and $20 billion in other domestic spending approved by the House.

The Senate’s approval would have given the Obama administration the authority to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont.

Between 300,000 and 500,000 Native Americans claim the Interior Department mismanaged billions of dollars held in trust by the government.

The House attached the settlement to the war-funding bill earlier this month.

Thursday’s vote marks the second time the settlement has failed to pass the Senate. It was originally included in the Democrats’ jobs-agenda bill that was caught in a filibuster last month.

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The Casper (Wyo.) Star Tribune has featured the following back and forth on the $3.4 billion settlement in the Cobell v. Salazar case. The settlement requires congressional approval, and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican who is vice-chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has been particularly vocal in opposing some of its provisions.

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

On July 4, the Trib ran this opinion column by Kimberly Craven, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate member who would be affected by the settlement. She worked for Sen. Daniel J. Evans, R-Wash., when he served as vice chairman of the Senate (then Select) Committee on Indian Affairs

Craven writes:

    The great rush to approve this settlement without hearings or a record reflects the desperate nature of the plaintiffs and the Cobell attorneys’ need for a bailout. The named plaintiffs and their lawyers will be greatly enriched while Indians are left to the uncertain fate of possible unintended consequences that we will have to live with and explain to our Seventh Generation.

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Yesterday, lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell responded, here.

In that response, Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Browning, Mont., likens Craven’s praise for Barrasso to “honoring Hurricane Katrina for what it did to the city of New Orleans.”

Read them both and see what you think.

Gwen Florio

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Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, uses this week’s Ask Elouise letter to discuss Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso’s continued attempts to amend the historic $3.4 billion settlement announced last year. (See previous post, here.)

    Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

    Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

    In your last letter, you mentioned that Senator Barrasso (R – WY), Vice-Chairman, Senator Committee on Indian Affairs introduced an amendment that he says would “improve” the settlement agreement even though it would terminate the settlement, what is the status of his amendment?

    Thanks to your overwhelming support, Senator Barrasso was unable to bring his amendment to the floor for a vote. Your letters and calls to members of Congress had a significant impact on the outcome. Unfortunately, Senator Barrasso still doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, that Indian Country overwhelmingly supports this settlement. According to statements reported in the press, he is more determined than ever to rob you of your victory in this case and it is likely that he again will attempt to introduce an amendment to terminate the settlement at some time in the future. We remain on guard against his efforts to further harm individual Indians.

To read all of the Ask Elouise columns about the settlement, click here.

Gwen Florio

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Last week, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., sent a letter to the editor of the Casper Star Tribune (see previous post, here) explaining an amendment he put forward to the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement.

That change would have limited attorneys’ fees to $50 million in the 14-year lawsuit designed to partially compensate hundreds of thousands of Indian people for royalties on their lands due them from the federal government. Backers of the settlement, led by lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, objected, saying any changes could kill the entire settlement. Cobell responded with her own letter, here, and run in full below.

Editor:

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

A lot has happened since 1887 when Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts got Congress to pass a law to break up Indian lands across the country.

Congress then did not believe Indians could manage their lands or their money, leading to creation of the infamous Indian Trust system.

It was a failure from the day it began operation 123 years ago.

But one lawmaker from Wyoming hasn’t got the word that Indians can do a better job of managing their lands and government than Uncle Sam.

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

Sen. John Barrasso (AP photo)

I’m talking about Sen. John Barrasso. He wants to kill the settlement of our 14-year lawsuit over the government’s mismanagement of our lands and our money.

The trouble is he doesn’t trust the nation’s Native Americans any more than Sen. Dawes.

We have traveled across Indian Country and we have found that Indians overwhelmingly want our settlement with the government approved — as is.

Sen. Barrasso seems determined to limit the Indian’s lawyers to less than what lawyers in any other class action lawsuit would be allowed for resolving the monumental mess that the Indian Trust has become.

His proposed amendment would kill the settlement, which allows only a simple up-or-down vote by Congress.

Furthermore, this is not a case, as his June 30 letter to the Star-Tribune (“Senator defends amendment”) seems to suggest, of protecting taxpayer money.

This dispute is all about money that belongs to individual Indians — and has since 1887.

Funds for the settlement would come from the government’s long-established settlement fund. It does not require a special appropriation.

Under the settlement, Native Americans would get a small portion of their funds that the government lost. Nothing will be offered to them if the senator’s amendment is added.

It’s time for Sen. Barrasso to realize most Native Americans have got it right.

ELOUISE COBELL, Browning, Mont.
Lead plaintiff, Cobell class action lawsuit
Member, Blackfeet Nation

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Here’s the story by Matt Volz of the Associated Press:

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives attached a $3.4 billion government settlement with Indian trust beneficiaries to a war-funding bill that it passed just before breaking for the July Fourth holiday.

The settlement was one of several additions made late Thursday to the $80 billion appropriations bill that includes funding for the troop surge in Afghanistan and money for federal disaster assistance. It authorizes the Obama administration to settle a class-action lawsuit with between 300,000 and 500,000 American Indians who claims the Interior Department mismanaged billions of dollars held in trust by the government.

The House originally authorized the settlement in May, but it was tucked into the Democrats’ jobs legislation that stalled in a Senate filibuster late last month.

The plaintiffs hope including the settlement in the war-funding and disaster-relief bill will mean the Senate will approve it.

“We expect that the Senate must give prompt and serious consideration to the bill because, without enactment, there are no funds for our war efforts and no funds for FEMA,” plaintiffs attorney Dennis Gingold said Friday. “The bill is too important to this country. Partisan politics must not obstruct passage.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Elouise Cobell (AP photo)

Last week, the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement, which would partially compensate hundreds of thousands of Native American families for federal mismanagement of royalties due them, appeared dead – or at least comatose.

Congressional approval is required before money can be distributed from the huge class-action lawsuit filed by Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Browning, Mont. But the settlement was part of a jobs bill that was killed last week in the Senate.

This morning comes the news from Cobell spokesman Bill McAllister:

“The Cobell settlement was successfully attached late last night to an appropriations bill in the House. The Senate must approve after it returns July 11.”

Stay tuned for updates later today. For a story on the 14-year struggle that produced the settlement, click here.

Gwen Florio

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Ignacio in southwestern Colorado, home of the Southern Ute Tribe (Southern Ute Tribe photo)

Ignacio in southwestern Colorado, home of the Southern Ute Tribe (Southern Ute Tribe photo)

Thought problems with royalty payments on natural resources extracted from Native American lands were going to be solved by the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement?

This story makes it clear the federal government isn’t the only one defrauding Native Americans of money owed them. It concerns accounting errors by BP – you’ve heard of them, right? – resulting in incorrect royalty payments on the company’s natural gas production on land owned by the Southern Ute tribe in southwestern Colorado.

The fine slapped on BP America yesterday was believed to be the largest civil fine from the Interior Department since such penalties were authorized in 1982, writes Julie Cart of the Los Angeles Times::

    It was also the first punishment meted out by the newly constituted Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which replaced the beleaguered Minerals Management Service, or MMS, last month. The new agency oversees offshore energy leasing and production as well as management of onshore federal oil and gas leases.

    Tribal auditors first brought the errors to the attention of BP three years ago after discovering that the company’s reports included incorrect royalty rates, sales prices and production data related to the leases. All of those factors are used to compute the amount of royalties BP owed to the tribe.

    After repeated notification and an order from the MMS, the company agreed to correct the problem, which it attributed to errors in automated files. But later audits from MMS and the tribe showed that the errors continued, even after BP said it had resolved the issue.

BP spokesman Toby Odone attributed the problem to a “coding error” and said the company might appeal the fine.

To put things in perspective, Cart points out that in 28 years, Interior has levied only $35 million in civil fines to the oil and gas industry

Gwen Florio

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