At a sparsely attended meeting in Lawton, Oklahoma hosted by attorneys for the <i>Cobell</i> litigation team, attorney, Keith Harper, explains settlment provisions to attendees on March 14. The <i>Cobell</i> attorneys traveled across Oklahoma March 14 to 16 for the notification provision outlined by the $3.4 billion trust settlement.

Looking for Answers

S.E. Ruckman
3/17/11

ANADARKO, Okla.—To Eddie Jacobs, the Cobell case is personal. He is not just an Individual Indian Monies (IIM) account holder with a number, he said. His grandpa was one of many Creek landholders with land where oil was discovered in the early 1900s. Jacobs’ story is the tale of a grandfather who had his monies siphoned to help pay for a world war.

“He didn’t know about it then,” Jacobs said. “Will he ever get that money back?”

Jacobs was one of nearly 100 landowners, attorneys and tribal officials who attended a series of meetings across Oklahoma on March 14 at the Wichita Housing Authority Iscani Community as part of the notification provision of the case.

Cobell attorneys, Keith Harper, Rob Harmala and Alex Pearl, fielded questions from Indian landholders dealing with the upcoming settlement. Inquiries included attorney’s fees, landholder eligibility, payment dates and claims guidelines. Tempers flared but were easily put out during the 90-minute meeting.

“The deceased people, who are no longer with us, they gave up so much,” Jacobs said.

Attendees nodded, but they had concerns about safeguarding against future mismanagement with the same government agency. Harper, said blame lay with the Minerals Management System (MMS) and not just the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

“It’s an issue we struggled with,” Harper said.  “We’ve brought those issues to light repeatedly.”

Comments tended from the practical to the emotional. Kiowa chairman, Ron Twohatchet, said he had fielded calls from tribal members IIM account holders with incarcerated relatives. What happens to their share, he asked. The answer: Any monies that come to those account holders will be deposited in their IIM, officials said.

Meanwhile, Lisa Koomsa, Kiowa Tribe enrollment officer, said she had been taking calls from tribal members who received a per capita payment in the 1970s for a tribal land settlement who wanted to know if they still qualified as a Cobell claimant. Even if they had an IIM account that transacted pennies in the time period for eligible claimants, they qualified, Pearl said.

Plenty of time was spent firing off at the federal government over mismanagement of trust accounts.

Still others were angry over the amount lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell and the attorneys might receive as part of the $3.4 billion settlement. Attorneys’ fees, some said in the meeting, were upwards of $100 million. Harper was unfazed and branded the estimated lawyers’ fees as “inaccurate.” The comments on attorney fees come on the heels of earlier reports that put the figure as high as $223 million. Lawmakers and federal officials are backing off supporting those amounts.

As for Cobell herself, the reputed $2.3 million is a figure that was carefully tempered, Harper said. To further litigation, Cobell solicited and accepted monies from foundations that must now be paid back, he said.

“For years, no one did anything about this trust but one woman, Elouise Cobell. She’s put in her time and effort. Be careful of this woman, this strong woman, who stood up and made sure it didn’t happen again,” Harper said.

At a second scheduled meeting in nearby Lawton, Oklahoma, less than 10 people attended. Stacks of packets sat by the door of the Lawton Best Western meeting room.

Lawton resident and Kiowa tribal member, Juanita Cortez, said she had heard about the meetings through word-of mouth. As an IIM account holder in rural Oklahoma, she is one of many on an allotment share.

“I didn’t get a packet in the mail,” she said. “And I came from the other meeting to get my questions answered, because I didn’t get my answers there.”

Attorneys cued attendees on upcoming dates. Among them is an April 20, 2011 deadline to file a form for claims or to “opt out” of the lawsuit. The second is a June 20 fairness hearing that is slated for Washington, D.C. During that hearing, input will be taken to objections on the lawsuit at that time, officials said.

Another key date is October 2011, when the first lawsuit recipients (IIM) can expect to start receiving payment, said Cobell attorney, Harmala.

The trio of attorneys also scheduled meetings through March 16 in Durant, Tulsa and Muskogee, Oklahoma, to answer questions from tribal members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Muscogee (Creek) Nation and United Keetoowah Band (UKB) Cherokee jurisdictions.

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