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Kildee and Cole Applaud Settlement of Cobell Lawsuit

December 8, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Congressmen Dale E. Kildee (D-MI), Co-Chairs of the House Native American Caucus, praised today’s announcement of a long-awaited settlement of the Cobell lawsuit regarding the mismanagement of over 300,000 individual Indian trust accounts by the U.S. Government.

"I am very pleased that the Cobell case has finally reached a compromise between the federal government and the litigants.  After 13 long years of litigation, Native Americans have been vindicated after the Department of Interior's blatant mismanagement of tribal lands.  Though I would like to see individual plaintiffs receiving a more substantial compensation, I am glad that the U.S. government was finally willing to acknowledge past mistakes and offer a measure of compensation to the injured parties.  It is my sincere hope that these monies will be distributed quickly and efficiently,” said Congressman Cole.  “The tribal trust land management must still undergo serious reform; however, this decision is an important step to granting Native Americans the compensation they deserve and correcting over a century of government negligence."

“Today’s announcement that the Cobell case has been settled after 13 years of litigation will bring welcome closures to our Native American tribes. This decision will help make amends for the past mismanagement of Indian trust funds by the U.S. Government, as well as bring much needed resources to address fractionated Indian lands. While this is an important step, this is not the end of the fight for justice on behalf of Indian trust assets, and I will continue to fight to ensure that our tribes are treated in a fair and equitable manner,” said Congressman Kildee.  “I commend President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Interior Secretary Salazar for their attention to this matter and their continued efforts to strengthen the relationship between the United States and tribal nations.”

The class action case, which involves several hundred thousand plaintiffs, was filed by Elouise Cobell in 1996 and has spanned the past 13 years. Under the negotiated agreement, a fund totaling $1.4 billion will be distributed to class members to compensate them for their historical accounting claims and to resolve claims that past U.S. officials mismanaged the administration of trust assets.  In addition, the settlement establishes a $2 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests.  The land consolidation program will provide individual Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.