Attorney General Eric Holder announced the settlement Wednesday of breach-of-trust lawsuits filed by 41 American Indian tribes against the United States. Photo by U.S. Dept. of Justice.
A landmark settlement announced this week between the federal government and American Indian tribes is expected to have long-term effects beyond the $1 billion in the agreement. Nine Northwest tribes are part of the deal .
Forty-one tribes filed lawsuits alleging the federal government mismanaged tribal accounts for generations. The accounts held decades of royalties on timber, farming, grazing and other leases on land held in trust for the tribes.
“They literally could not tell the tribal beneficiary how much money was in the account, or how much money was in it or where it was going,” says Matthew Fletcher.
Fletcher teaches indigenous law at Michigan State University. He says the $1 billion settlement goes a long way to address non-financial debts as well.
“You know there’s sort of a moral trust responsibility of the federal government to Indian tribes. And that plays a key role," Fletcher says. "That’s why you have press conferences with the attorney general saying ‘We’re doing the things that we should have been doing 50 years ago or 100 years ago.’”
Congress approved $3 billion for a settlement in 2010 in what’s known as the Cobell case. That agreement involved individuals, not the tribes themselves.
At the White House announcement of the latest settlement, the chairman of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe praised the Obama administration for what he sees as recent strides in conditions for Native Americans.
On the Web:
U.S. Department of Justice announcement
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