Government will pay $3.4 billion in Cobell Settlement

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The federal government will pay a $3.4 billion settlement with nearly 500,000 American Indians over government management of individual American Indian trust accounts. The settlement resolves claims of mismanagement of trust assets, including royalty payments for leases for oil, gas, timber and farm grazing.

In a Nov. 26 statement, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar outlined the implementation of the Cobell Settlement, including a $1.5 billion fund to be distributed to the class action lawsuit members for "accounting and potential trust fund and asset mismanagement claims," and $1.9 billion for a land consolidation program that lets owners voluntarily sell individual land interests that have fractionated--been split among owners over successive generations.

Checks to individuals for around $1,000 are the first part of the settlement and will likely start arriving before the year's end. A second distribution of funds will begin afterwards for those that have or should have received income from trust land.

Salazar notes that up to $60 million of the settlement can be set aside for scholarships to help American Indians and Alaska Natives attend college or vocational school.

The agreement (.pdf) was announced on Dec. 7,  2009 and was approved by Congress on Nov. 30, 2010 as part of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. Obama signed the legislation on Dec. 8, 2010. The settlement has been upheld throughout the appeals process and is now active as the final appeal expired Nov. 24, 2012.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case and a member of the BlackFeet Nation, began the suit in June 1996 but died last year. At the time, President Obama credited her work with providing the framework for scholarships, land ownership controls, and improved relations between the federal government and native tribes.

For more:
- read Salazar's statement
- view the agreement (.pdf)

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