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« DOJ's Grindler Promises Aggressive Intellectual Property Enforcement | Main | On Supreme Court's Final Argument Day, First Amendment Dominates »

April 28, 2010

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Kimberly Craven

Like many of the 384,000 federally recognized tribal members who are certified members of the class action lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar, I was pleased when I learned the Obama Administration and the four named plaintiffs had reached a settlement in December 2009. But after a careful reading of the full settlement, I am disappointed and outspoken in my efforts to educate Indian Country about its ramifications. As the old adage goes, the devil is in the details of what the plaintiffs have agreed to in exchange for settling their 14 year old lawsuit. I see three key issues that must be resolved before the settlement is ratified by Congress and goes back to the Court.
First, the plaintiffs have agreed to the Administration’s request to create a totally new class of plaintiffs to extinguish claims which are entirely outside the scope of the current litigation. The new class, for $500 plus a formula amount, is asked to forever extinguish all their claims for the past mismanagement of their land and its resources – timber, water, grazing or other economic use. The Cobell suit was filed in a Court of Equity that could order an historical accounting as a remedy but it is NOT a court that could award monetary damages. But yet, here we are being offered $3.4 billion dollars? The Obama Administration seems determined “to wipe the slate clean” and “turn a page” without even bothering to find out what is on the slate and whether the page can or should be turned at this time. To many Indian people, a new beginning will consist of restoring and repatriating our homelands to tribes and Indian families in a way that has never occurred before. This new class needs to be dropped out of the proposed settlement. Then the original accounting class might receive between $3,000 to $4,000, not the $1,000 currently proposed.
Secondly, $2 billion of the settlement goes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to purchase back fractioned lands, through the Indian land Consolidation Act that will eventually be returned to the tribes. Neither the tribes, their members or the lawsuit plaintiffs will have any say over which lands are repurchased and consolidated. Rather, the agency most responsible for mismanagement of Indian land will be given sole discretion. After 10 years, any unspent funds revert back to the Treasury. To me, this is an illusory promise and the “reverter clause” is highly frowned upon in class action settlements. The $2 billion should be put in a permanent trust fund account for the tribes where the interest may be spent on repatriating and restoring lands, for tribes and Indian families who want to reclaim their ancestral homelands.

Sen. Thomas Barrasso (R-WY) has asked Tribes and Indian people to submit their ideas about how the settlement might be strengthened to better meet the needs of Tribes and Indian people. I appreciate this good faith effort much more than the current efforts to tack the required settlement legislation onto other Congressional bills without benefit of a public hearing on the merits. Transparency is an important element for a healthy democracy – even for Indians.

Tom

A little more info on what the Cobell case is about would be helpful. This is the 2nd article today in which news on "process" is reported at the expense of news on "substance".

Oohenunpa Waste

I'm happy-as an IIM acctholder-that Congress
is not just rubber stamping this top heavy
deal! I never asked cobell to litigate my cause or those of my Lakota relatives but since she needed to gain legal standing she used us all to help her case! gingold calls the propsoed cap, 'bottum of the barrel' which is where he will join the bulk of us class parties except he'll reap millions! I think atty fees should come from EGA fund and at least half of the 3 billion land consolidation $$ should be parcelled up to IIM acctees! I'm glad cobell/plaintiffs are being mentioned to verify costs herein! A deal with Indian country is long overdue but
this one is just too sweet fro cobell/attys
and a bitter pill for us IIM acctees!

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