HELENA, Mont. (AP) — After nearly 17 years of courtroom arguments, congressional negotiations and Indian Country bickering, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans could see the first payments of a $3.4 billion U.S. government settlement by the end of the year, plaintiffs' attorneys said Monday.
The settlement between American Indians across the nation and the government over more than a century's worth of squandered and mismanaged land trust royalties became final on Friday, when the appeal period expired.
One of the largest U.S. government settlements in history began with a lawsuit filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont. The Blackfeet leader observed that those who leased Indian land made money from its natural resources, while the Indians themselves remained in poverty with no accounting of the royalties from that land that were held in trust for them by the government
Cobell herself led the fight against the government for more than 15 years before she died of cancer last year.
"We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented," lead attorney Dennis Gingold said in a statement Monday. "We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day."
Approximately 350,000 beneficiaries could start receiving $1,000 checks by Christmas as the first part of the settlement goes forward, plaintiffs' attorneys said.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a statement that said the settlement marks a step forward in reconciliation and a new era in how the government administers its trusts.
"With the settlement now final, we can put years of discord behind us and start a new chapter in our nation-to-nation relationship," Salazar said. Continued...