The U.S. Department of Justice announced a $1 billion settlement today with 41 American Indian tribes in litigation over the mismanagement of assets held in trust by the federal government.
The settlement resolves several dozen claims pending against the U.S. Department of the Interior in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Interior Department has long faced litigation over its handling of monetary assets and land held in trusts for the benefit of federally recognized tribes across the country.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., in a statement, said that the "settlements fairly and honorably resolve historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds, trust lands and other non-monetary trust resources that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States.”
The settlement is separate from the contested $3.4 billion settlement in a high-profile Indian trust reform case brought by the late Elouise Cobell. That settlement, which a U.S. District Court judge approved in December 2010, is now on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The Interior Department manages 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 tribes, according to today’s release. The department also manages about 56 million acres of trust lands and the leases on those lands for natural resource production and other uses.
The settlement will resolve claims brought by 41 tribes for breach of trust. According to the release, the government and the tribes have also agreed on “information sharing procedures” to improve trust management and provisions for dispute resolution in the future.
“These important settlements reflect President Obama’s continuing commitment to ensuring empowerment and reconciliation for American Indians,” Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. “It strengthens the government-to-government relationship with Tribal nations, helps restore a positive working relationship with Indian Country leaders and empowers American Indian communities.”
Attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund, which represented more than half of the tribes involved in the settlement, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.