President Barack Obama

Obama Moves to Settle 41 Tribal Trust Cases for $1 Billion

Rob Capriccioso

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration announced April 11 its intent to resolve 41 long-standing disputes with Indian tribal governments over the federal mismanagement of trust funds and resources.

Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice, said the settlements will amount to a combined total of $1.023 billion to the 41 tribes for past federal mismanagement.

Beyond money, the settlements also set forth a framework for promoting tribal sovereignty and improving nation-to-nation federal-tribal relations, while trying to avoid future litigation through improved communication, Moreno said.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told Indian Country Today Media Network that the Obama administration is choosing not to announce a breakdown of monies to each tribe, “leaving it at discretion of the tribes.” He said that the decision was made “in deference to the tribes” out of “respect for their confidentiality.” Some of the settlements – about 35 – are available with the D.C. district court, Hornbuckle said, but the others are filed as “dismissed,” so they are not public record.

Hornbuckle said that the money for the settlements does not have to be approved by Congress; rather, it comes out of the United States’ Judgment Fund.

The announcement was made at a White House ceremony, with Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, and other senior members of the Obama administration joining tribal leaders in attendance.

“May we walk together toward a brighter future, built on trust, and not acrimony,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor General of the Interior Department, at the event. “And when I say the word trust, I don’t mean the legal definition of that word, I mean the dictionary’s definition of that word—assured reliance on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle of a person or thing….”

Tompkins is a Navajo Nation citizen, and she personally helped sort out the legal parameters of the deals.

“I know it hasn’t been easy to get to this point,” Holder later added, thanking tribal leaders and agency officials for their negotiation efforts. He said the settlements represented “a model for fairness and success.” The negotiations took 22 months, according to the White House.

Salazar called the settlements a “deliverance” on the promise Obama made to Indians when campaigning for president in 2008. He added that some in his orbit had advocated continuing fighting lawsuits against the tribes, but advocates within the administration decided that settlement was the better and right route.

Charlie Galbraith, an associate director in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, called the development “a significant step forward in the resolution of tribal trust cases pending against the United States,” in a blog post on the White House website.

“Many of the cases include claims by the tribes that go back over 100 years,” Galbraith said, adding that the deal represented “good-faith cooperation and hard work of the administration and 41 American Indian tribes in working out fair and honorable resolutions of the tribes’ claims.”

The announcement is one of several settlements the Obama administration has announced with individual Indians and tribes since 2009.

In 2010, the administration settled the $760 million Keepseagle case brought by Native American farmers and ranchers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They alleged discrimination by the agency in its administration of loan programs.

President Barack Obama also signed into law the Claims Resolution Act in December 2010, which included the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement agreement that aims to resolve a lawsuit over the management and accounting of more than 300,000 individual American Indian trust accounts. That settlement is still on appeal in federal court. It was first announced by the administration in December 2009.

The Claims Resolution Act also included four water rights settlements, meant to benefit seven tribes in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico.

In October 2011, the Obama administration reached a $380 million settlement with the Osage Nation over the tribe’s long-standing lawsuit involving the federal government’s mismanagement of trust funds and trust resources. That settlement featured measures designed to improve the trust relationship between the tribe and the United States.

Chief James Allan, Coeur d’Alene tribal chairman, said at the event that he believes Obama has done more for tribes than the last five presidents combined.

Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Tribe, thanked the U.S. agencies for moving to settle the lawsuits that have already proven costly to tribes as they have carried out their legal challenges for years. He also thanked the Native American Rights Fund for its role in assisting tribes on the deals.

“The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future,” Hayes said. “These agreements mark a new beginning, one of just reconciliation, better communication…and strengthened management….”

The tribes affected by the settlements, as listed by the White House, are:

1. Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation

2. Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

3. Blackfeet Tribe

4. Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians

5. Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa Rancheria

6. Coeur d'Alene Tribe

7. Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation

8. Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

9. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

10. Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation

11. Hualapai Tribe

12. Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians of Arizona

13. Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas

14. Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

15. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians

16. Makah Tribe of the Makah Reservation

17. Mescalero Apache Nation

18. Minnesota Chippewa Tribe

19. Nez Perce Tribe

20. Nooksack Tribe

21. Northern Cheyenne Tribe

22. Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine

23. Pawnee Nation

24. Pueblo of Zia

25. Quechan Indian Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation

26. Rincon Luiseño Band of Indians

27. Round Valley Tribes

28. Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

29. Santee Sioux Tribe

30. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation

31. Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

32. Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation

33. Spokane Tribe

34. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Fort Yates Reservation

35. Swinomish Tribal Indian Community

36. Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians

37. Tohono O'odham Nation

38. Tulalip Tribe

39.Tule River Tribe

40. Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

41. Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation

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49indian's picture
Submitted by 49indian on
only 1 billion split amongst 41 tribes?

aimster's picture
Submitted by aimster on
most of these were already signed off on what is this a campaign tactic?

grumpy's picture
Submitted by grumpy on
Thanks to President Obama for all his efforts to restore justice regarding Indian land claims. 1 billion dollar settlement. This is still just a drop in the bucket when it comes down to the distribution of this settlement. How is it to be distributed to individuals? How many Indian people will actually benefit or see any of this money? It sounds like a lot of money, but what about the worth of the land in today's market? I would think the "Indian money" we have looked forward to receiving for years will again be a sum that in no way compares to the lands we have lost. In my family alone, there was at least 20 or more 80 acre allotments. I would much rather have the land go back to our reservation. At least it would be taken care of. But anyway, hope this stirs up some thoughts about this settlement.

nativeopin505's picture
Submitted by nativeopin505 on
Hmm… so in an election year natives are once again promised a resolution to resolve a long standing dispute that will increase their livelihood and put money in the tribal coffers. Just put aside the fork tongue statement and say “I want your vote”,, better to speak the truth than speak with meaningless word that produce no action.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Hey some body forgot about my tribe Kickapoo Tribe Of Texas about us the Goverment still own us a billion and I think we deserve it.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
I am Tohono mix with Hualapai seminole, cherokee and mexican. I am registered under Tohono. We keep being told that our claims are still being processed. And my family members are told they are not getting theirs. Why is that? Tohono is suppose to get $2000.00 ever two years we have not had one for about three or four years. When we did mine was only $19.00 and some cents..others got over $2000.00. Whoever screwed us up in the first place... needs to quit being selfish for whatever reason they are using that money for.

Jeremy Ashley BS BS MA's picture
Jeremy Ashley B...
Submitted by Jeremy Ashley B... on
It takes a minority or African American President to initiate proceedings for real social justice America. The ongoing history of White European Racism perpetuated by the US Government Officials needs to end....

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
LOL.. We need our land back! Nothing replaces land. Money is temporary and Land is forever....