A settlement agreement was announced on December 8 between Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Cobell v. Salazar class action lawsuit over federal mismanagement of individual Indian trust fund accounts, and the Obama Administration. Under the terms of the settlement, the federal government will create a $1.4 billion Accounting/Trust Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The settlement also creates an Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indians. The settlement agreement must be approved by Congress and a federal district court.
John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, expressed support for the settlement. “We have been waiting for President Obama and his Administration to fulfill his campaign promise to settle the Indian trust fund litigation and he has met that commitment. We are very pleased," he said. The Native American Rights Fund was co-counsel for the Cobell plaintiffs when the case was originally filed in 1996 and participated in the case until 2006 when it undertook the filing of a similar case for Indian tribes over federal mismanagement of tribal trust fund accounts, Nez Perce Tribe, et al. v. Salazar.
Echohawk said that he is hopeful that the Obama Administration can soon focus its efforts on settlements for the tribal claims. The Native American Rights Fund currently represents 42 tribes in the Nez Perce case. There are also about 100 other tribal cases asserting claims stemming from federal mismanagement of tribal trust fund accounts. By the government’s own figures, tribal trust accounts hold five times as much money as the individual Indian trust accounts involved in the Cobell case.
Information on the Cobell settlement can be found at www.CobellSettlement.com