I went up to the Blackfeet Reservation this week to talk to people there about the Cobell case settlement. When I went, on Wednesday, the Senate was preparing to debate a jobs bill that contained approval for the $3.4 billion settlement for Indian people defrauded by the U.S. government of royalties on their land. It seemed that, after generations of being shorted, people might finally get some of the money owed them. A day later, the jobs bill seemed dead and the settlement was once again up in the air – all of which underscored the resignation voiced by the people with whom I spoke for this story:
Marietta Green works at the Blackfeet Eagle Shields Center for elders. The government, she says, “should not have committed fraud against my ancestors.” (Gwen Florio/Missoulian)
BROWNING, Mont. – Frank Still Smoking is 76, an age where he’s seen a lot of his contemporaries pass on.
They died, he believes, without receiving justice – in the form of money due them from the U.S. government for mismanaging royalty payments on tribal lands to the tune of billions of dollars over several generations.
This particular injustice might have been added to the seemingly endless list of offenses by the government against Indian people had it not been for the work of Elouise Cobell, who, like Still Smoking, is a member of the Blackfeet Nation.
Fourteen years ago, Cobell sued the government, demanding compensation for the hundreds of thousands of Native Americans defrauded of their money.
In December, after repeated setbacks, a $3.4 billion settlement in Cobell v. Salazar was announced. It was described as one of the largest class-action lawsuits in history. Indian Country celebrated.
And then – nothing.
The settlement, which needs congresssional approval before the money can be distributed, has faced one delay after another, most recently on Thursday night, when Senate Republicans used a filibuster to kill the jobs bill to which the settlement was attached.
“It’s just a wait-and-see game now,” a weary-sounding Cobell said in a telephone interview Friday. “We were so disappointed and disheartened this didn’t get approved because it affects so many people’s lives.”
In Browning, 2,200 miles away from the political power games in Washington, Still Smoking wonders if he’ll end up like his friends, dead before he ever sees a penny of the money due him.
As always, we’ll keep posting updates as the settlement progresses – or not. Someday, someday soon, we hope to write that people are actually getting their money. In the meantime, we’ll try to be patient, too.
Tags: Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Blackfeet Tribe, buffalo post, Cobell v. Salazar, Elouise Cobell, Gwen Florio, Indian trust case, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Jobs bill, Sioux, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Interior Department, U.S. Senate