Cobell v. Salazar: Fourteen Years and Counting

More than six months and several deadline extensions for Congressional approval after the negotiated settlement of the fourteen-year-old Individual Indian Money Trust Fund suit, Cobell v. Salazar, Indian Country Today reports

Cobell settlement stumbles in Senate

Any last-minute hopes that the Cobell settlement could pass the Senate as part of a tax extenders package before the Independence Day congressional recess have proven futile.

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid admitted June 30 that the settlement could not pass as part of the package on the table at the time. He blamed Republicans for blocking the overall bill.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid, said senators would work through the Fourth of July recess to develop a “compromise package” including the settlement “that can garner enough Republican support for passage.”

The death of Cobell as part of the extenders measure has now happened more than once….

The House passed a version of the legislation with Cobell attached just before the Memorial Day recess. That action would be meaningless in terms of the extenders bill if it remains cut out of the Senate package, and the settlement would have to find a new legislative vehicle to become law, or pass muster as a stand-alone measure.

The Obama administration deal calls for a $3.4 billion settlement to thousands of Indian plaintiffs who have been suing the federal government for years due to alleged royalty mismanagement.

Some Congress members have said they have problems with Cobell being attached to another piece of legislation, rather than being voted on as a stand-alone bill.

Indian Country also reports on the changes in the settlement being sought by various Native organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. It seems clear that lead plaintiff, and driving force behind the suit, Cobell is after fourteen years well-schooled and wary of how long the process can be dragged out. This close to the end – perhaps – she seeks to nail the settlement down. On the other hand, all Indian parties affected have centuries of reasons to seek clarity and control of the process that will emerge from the settlement.

NCAI Cobell change resolution prompts tribal support

The resolution, approved June 23 during the organization’s mid-year conference in Rapid City, S.D., states that “NCAI desires to see” several changes “incorporated in the settlement agreement by the appropriate forum, whether it is Congress, the administration and the plaintiffs, or the federal courts.” The changes include:

  • Tribal participation in planning, designing and implementing the $2 billion land consolidation program including allowing tribes to contract or compact program funds;
  • Oversight to assure that Indian land owners are treated fairly and equitably under the distribution and to consider additional action if necessary;
  • Qualifications of the bank to administer the distribution; fairness in attorney fees and incentive payments to ensure that they do not unduly diminish the restitution to individual account holders;
  • Consideration of environmental damages to Indian lands and remediation of environmental damages;
  • Impartial administration of the scholarship fund and concurrence with tribal leaders on the appointment of the board of trustees;
  • Separate legislation to restore tribal control over land management and land consolidation, to diminish delays in land transactions, and to strengthen the federal trust responsibility to support economic development.

One element of the current politics is that delay in passage of the settlement merges the interests of some Republicans who seek to obstruct the process and various Indian parties who seek to improve the settlement. Such is the nature of Indian politics. This is one way a five-hundred-year conquest unwinds at the end of the spool.



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