On November 19th, the Senate passed legislation which compensates Native American plaintiffs in the Cobell v. Kempthorne class action lawsuit for Native funds mismanaged by the United States government. The settlement still must be passed by the House of Representatives; they have promised to do so before the end of the ‘lame duck’ session, which ends when Congress recesses for Christmas.
The case dealt with the mismanagement of trust funds which were due to multiple Native American families who live on land rich in natural resources. As either the government or private corporations used these resources, payments for the resources were held in trust by the United States government in order to be distributed again to the families who own the land.
However, the mismanagement of these fees has resulted in years of families not receiving the funds they are due. In fact, Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation has advocated for the families, claiming that the United States has “mismanaged more than $100 billion in oil, timber, grazing and other royalties on land owned by some 500,000 individual Indian beneficiaries.”
Cases like this one have to also be approved by Congress before funds are settled. In a political climate such as todays, the price of such a settlement delayed payment to the Native American plaintiffs until last week. However, the funds used to pay for the settlement include offsets from customs fees as well as a$400 million from Indian Health and Safety funds: taking from one trust responsibility to compensate for the mismanagement of another. $562 million will also be used from authorized funds from WIC (supplemental nutrition assistance for Women, Infants and Children).
With some mismanaged funds going all the way back to land taken into trust in 1887, recognition of mismanagement has long been due to these families. Along with the $1.4 billion for individual plaintiffs (translating into around $1000 for each plaintiff) is $2 billion for buying up small scattered properties from their owners as well as $60 million for education funds for Native American youth.
For more information on the Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit, you can visit this site from the Friends Committee on National Legislation.