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.
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)
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
Tags: buffalo post, Cobell v. Salazar, Dawes Act, Elouise Cobell, Gwen Florio, Indian trust funds, Native American news, Sen. Henry Dawes, U.S. Interior Department