Posts Tagged ‘Indian trust case’

Elouise Cobell (AP)

Elouise Cobell (AP)

Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the landmark class action $3.4 billion Indian trust case, uses her frequent Ask Elouise column to answer questions about the settlement, and updates people on the process that should eventually result in money for thousands of Native Americans.

The most recent Ask Elouise letter concerns last week’s failure by Congress to approve the $3.4 billion settlement reached last December.

The hopes of Cobell and her fellow plaintiffs in the case now rest on the lame-duck congressional session scheduled for after the Nov. 2 election. Cobell writes:

    Between now and October 15, I will consult with our attorneys and our champions in Congress to determine if (and how) our settlement legislation can be passed, as well as our options if we determine that there is no reasonable chance of passage.

The settlement has its own website, with a section for Frequently Asked Questions.

People with questions for the column can e-mail Cobell at askelouise@cobellsettlement.com, or send a letter to:

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Gwen Florio

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The Senate adjourned Wednesday without giving the Obama administration the authority to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont. The Associated Press has the details:

    The suit accuses the federal government of mismanaging billions of dollars held in trust for Indian landowners.

    The Senate will reconvene for a lame-duck session Nov. 15. Cobell says no decision has been made on whether to press for Senate approval in that session.

The lead plaintiffs’ attorney tells the wonderfully named BLT (Blog of the Legal Times) that they remain optimistic.

“We uniquely have bipartisan support in an environment where you don’t see that often,” Dennis Gingold tells Mike Scarcella.

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The National Black Farmers Association wants a settlement order in a class-action suit involving black farmers considered separately from one issued in the Native American trust case known as Cobell.

John Boyd Jr.

John Boyd Jr.

John Boyd Jr., the group’s president, seeks a cloture vote on a standalone black farmers bill in the case known as Pigford II, according to a story in Indian Country Today by Rob Capriccioso.

“While there are lots of very important causes, the black farmers know that unless this bill is considered on its own merits other bills that have nothing to do with this issue – including the Cobell Native American trust fund case – may keep it from passing. Black farmers are dying, in fact another farmer active in the movement died this past week, and I can’t let politicians use other issues as excuses not to vote on justice for black farmers.”

But as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid points out, “Many American Indians have been waiting; some have died waiting, for this settlement to be funded by this Congress. I support passing settlement funding that pays the plaintiffs in both the Pigford II and Cobell settlements. The plaintiffs in both cases know what it is like to suffer from ongoing wrongdoing and both sides deserve justice. Funding these settlements is something I have fought for over many months and I will continue to push for justice.”

Elouise Cobell

Elouise Cobell

Last year, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans were awarded a total of $3.4 billion when the Cobell v. Salazar case was settled. However, that settlement – like the one in Pigford II – needs congressional approval before anyone can receive money.

Elouise Cobell’s suit alleges that Native people were defrauded of millions of dollars, supposedly held in trust for them by the government, in royalties from resource development of their lands. Black farmers cheated by the USDA received $1 billion in Pigford I in the late 1990s; Pigford II would provide $1.2 billion more to resolve claims by others, Capriccioso writes.

Cobell lawyers didn’t comment on the suggestion, nor did the White House.

Gwen Florio

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The Washington Post takes the White House and Congress to task in an editorial about huge settlements in class-action cases involving Native Americans and black farmers.

As the editorial notes, in each case, whenever the plaintiffs think the settlements due them might actually arrive, another delay is imposed. The suit pertaining to black farmers was settled in 1999, the one involving Native Americans last year.

Each case involves injustices going back generations. The case filed by Elouise Cobell, who is Blackfeet from Browning, Mont., sought redress for hundreds of thousands of Native people cheated by the federal government out of royalties due them on their lands.

The latest delay pushes the deadline for the necessary congressional approval for the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement back to Oct. 15.

As the Post notes:

    African Americans and Native Americans have been the most persecuted and exploited groups in this nation’s history, and the settlements in question represent modest, but achievable, efforts to address discrete harms. The White House and Congress should work diligently to ensure that these most recent promises become reality.

Gwen Florio

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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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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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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.”

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