Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Interior Department’

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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In this Oct. 30, 2010 file photo, the sun rises over Nantucket Sound as seen from Popponesset Beach in Mashpee, Mass., on Cape Cod. Sunrise ceremonies are important to the Wampanoag tribes, who say a planned wind farm will disrupt those. (AP Photo/Julia Cumes, File)

In this Oct. 30, 2010 file photo, the sun rises over Nantucket Sound as seen from Popponesset Beach in Mashpee, Mass., on Cape Cod. Sunrise ceremonies are important to the Wampanoag tribes, who say a planned wind farm will disrupt those. (AP Photo/Julia Cumes, File)

The United South and Eastern Tribes and the National Congress of American Indians are seeking a reversal of the Obama administration’s approval of the Cape Wind project that would bring giant wind turbines to Nantucket Sound.

The site is sacred to the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes, whose sunrise ceremonies would be disrupted by the planned 130 turbines.

As Indian Country Today’s Gale Courey Toensing writes here:

    Both tribes vigorously opposed the project. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made a well-publicized visit to the area in February, inviting the press to accompany him on a Coast Guard ship to the wind factory site in the middle of Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

    Salazar’s task was to weigh the value the Obama administration places on respecting an irreplaceable and immovable American Indian sacred site against the worth and importance of a privately-owned for-profit renewable energy plant that could be built elsewhere.

    On April 28, Salazar gave his stamp of approval to the plant. The project is still in the permitting process with local and federal agencies.

USET, which represents 25 tribes from Maine to Florida, passed a resolution last month seeking a reversal, while NCAI’s resolution asks that the decision be reconsidered.

Gwen Florio

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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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Just catching up with this interesting story from a couple of days ago by Clifton Adcock of the Tulsa (Okla.) World:

    (Photo from NowPublic.com)

    (Photo from NowPublic.com)


    A federal lawsuit filed in Tulsa by the Cherokee Nation seeking a declaration that the descendants of freedmen are not entitled to membership in the tribe has been ordered transferred to Washington, D.C., where a similar lawsuit is pending against tribal leaders and the federal government.

    The Cherokee Nation filed its suit last year against the U.S. Department of the Interior and five descendants of freedmen — former slaves that had been owned by tribal members. The freedmens’ descendants had obtained tribal membership before Cherokees voted in 2007 to restrict Cherokee citizenship by excluding people whose ancestors were not listed on the Dawes Rolls as having a percentage of American Indian blood.

U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy gets the case. He’s also hearing a lawsuit brought in 2003 by Marilyn Vann, who heads Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association. That case names Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith and the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We eagerly await the day when all descendants of Dawes-enrolled Cherokee freedmen can register/reregister as Cherokee Nation tribal members, vote and run for tribal political office, as promised our ancestors by the U.S. government and tribal officials in 1866,” says Vann.

But Cherokee Attorney General Diane Hammons tells Adcock, “The record clearly shows that the federal government itself has extinguished any rights non-Indian freedmen descendants had under the treaty.”

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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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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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)

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)

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:

    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.

Gwen Florio

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In this photo taken last month, Shirley Butterfly DeVolve holds a photograph of her father, Charles Butterfly, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Indian tribe at her home in Yakama, Wash Cobell's class-action lawsuit represents at least 300,000 and maybe as many as 500,000 Indians who own property that the government holds in trust for them. The Department of Interior leases that land to others to farm or develop resources, and by agreement is supposed to pay the Indians the money generated by the land into Individual Indian Money trust accounts, or IIMs. (AP Photo/Shannon Dininny)

In this photo taken last month, Shirley Butterfly DeVolve holds a photograph of her father, Charles Butterfly, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Indian tribe at her home in Yakama, Wash Cobell's class-action lawsuit represents at least 300,000 and maybe as many as 500,000 Indians who own property that the government holds in trust for them. The Department of Interior leases that land to others to farm or develop resources, and by agreement is supposed to pay the Indians the money generated by the land into Individual Indian Money trust accounts, or IIMs. (AP Photo/Shannon Dininny)

The National Congress of American Indians, meeting this week in Rapid City, S.D., has approved a resolution backing a quick congressional sign-off on the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement – without an amendment that would cap attorneys’ fees.

That amendment, offered by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., threatened to scuttle the historic settlement that was 14 years in the making. Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, along with several tribes, strenuously objected to the move.

Kevin Abourezk is covering the NCAI meeting for Indian Country Today, here:

    The settlement calls for $1.4 billion to class members for redress of trust mismanagement and accounting claims and $2 billion to purchase and consolidate fractionated Indian land. The settlement also would set aside $60 million for a Native American scholarship fund.

    The House voted to approve the deal just before Memorial Day, and the Senate is continuing to consider H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, which includes the Cobell settlement.

Congressional approval is necessary before hundreds of thousands of Indian people can begin to receive payments, estimated at $1,500 for most people. Several court-ordered deadlines for that approval have been set, and rescheduled. The latest one is July 9.

Gwen Florio

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