Settlement in Cobell Case Will Potentially Benefit Many Community Members

Keith Harper, an attorney at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, presented at the Boys & Girls Club in Sacaton to present and provide information regarding the $3.4 billion dollar settlement of the Indian trust case. Harper called it a record breaking settlement that resolves claims that the government violated trust duties and mismanaged trust funds, lands and other assets.

Keith Harper, an attorney at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, presented at the Boys & Girls Club in Sacaton to present and provide information regarding the $3.4 billion dollar settlement of the Indian trust case. Harper called it a record breaking settlement that resolves claims that the government violated trust duties and mismanaged trust funds, lands and other assets.

SACATON-The Cobell v. Salazar case was given preliminary approval to settle for a record breaking $3.4 billion for individual Native Americans trust account beneficiaries as compensation for the mismanagement of trust assets by the United States government.

Congress recently approved the settlement and Keith Harper, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, visited Sacaton and provided informational packets and also a presentation regarding the litigation and settlement. “There’s never been a lawsuit against the United States that has had a larger settlement in any matter, whether Indian or non-Indian,” said Harper.

The monumental case became known as the Cobell case named after lead plaintiff, Elouise Cobell.

The Indian Trust at issue date back to the Dawes Act of 1887, which allotted tribal lands to Individual Indians in small parcels – usually 80 or 160 acres - the lands were held thereafter in trust by the United States government. Money earned from those lands was collected and deposited into Individual Indian Money accounts or IIM accounts. Significant assets were accrued through the abundant resources of those lands including oil and gas, timber, and minerals as well as leases for farming and grazing. The government accumulated those moneys and assets which were to be deposited into IIM accounts.

The lawsuit was on behalf of Indians who were the victims of theft and gross mismanagement of trust assets and the suit was settled in aggregate for a proposed $3.4 billion after 14 years of vigorous litigation. Harper said that the plaintiffs are very happy with the settlement and that the presentations will persist around Indian country till March.

Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, said that this case will be a clarion call for Native Americans to take steps to protect their interests.

The settlement includes two classes and most people included are members of both classes. The packets dispensed during the presentation included the following information about each class.

The Historical Accounting Class
  • Anyone alive on Sept. 30, 2009
  • Who had an open IIM account anytime between Oct. 25, 1994 and Sept. 30, 2009, and
  • Whose account had at least on cash transaction (that was not later reversed)
  • Heirs of deceased account holders are also included in the settlement

The Trust Administration Class
  • Anyone alive on September 30, 2009 who had an IIM account recorded in currently available electronic data anytime from approximately 1985 to Sept. 30, 2009 or can demonstrate ownership interest in trust land or land in restricted status as of Sept. 30, 2009.
  • The estate of any deceased beneficiary who IIM account was open or whose trust assets had been in probate as reflected in the federal government’s records as of Sept. 30 2009.

Approximately $1.5 billion of the funds will pay individual trust beneficiaries for past mismanagement. Another 1.9 billion will be used to purchase “fractionated” individual trust lands. These sales are voluntary and the land will be returned to tribal control.

For members of the Historical Accounting Class individuals will receive $1,000. Payments to the Trust Administration Class Members will receive a baseline payment of approximately $800 but depending on the activity of the account the sum could increase in range. In total then, the vast majority of beneficiaries will receive at least approximately $1800 and many will receive more. Importantly, any monies received from the settlement will be tax-free, significantly increasing the value of the settlement. Moreover, any Cobell settlement funds cannot be considered in determining the eligibility of class members to federal programs such as food stamps and welfare. Harper said that if there are not appeals, they expect payments to be sent out to class members in October of this year.

Another $60 million will establish a scholarship fund for Native Americans seeking higher education.

For more information about the $3.4 billion Indian Trust Settlement call: 1800- 961-6109 or visit: www.IndianTrust.com
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