One of the United States' largest class-action lawsuits came to a close yesterday as American Indians and the federal government finalized a $3.4-billion settlement that would end a 17-year battle over squandered land trust royalties. Approximately 350,000 American Indian beneficiaries will receive a total of $1.5 billion, either $1,000 or $800 payouts, as soon as December via a mailed check.
Additionally, the government will use another $1.9 billion to purchase fractioned land allotments from current proprietors and return that land to the tribe. The deal also includes a government-funded scholarship for American Indian youth.
"These 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," said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in a statement.
The lawsuit initially was filed in 1996 by Blackfeet tribe leader Elouise Cobell after she witnessed those who leased American Indian land gain wealth from selling its resources. There was no accounting of the royalties from this land that was held in trust for them by the government, actions that prolonged poverty in the American Indian community. Cobell died in 2011 from cancer.
"We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented," said lead attorney Dennis Gingold in a statement. "We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day."
Another 60 similar class-action lawsuits against the government have not yet been settled. American Indian tribes across the country, including the Osage tribe in Oklahoma, the Chippewa tribe in Minnesota and the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, await resolution and payout.