John Echohawk

$3 Million Gift From Nez Perce Tribe Supports Native American Rights Fund Advocacy

Carol Berry
8/2/12

The Nez Perce Tribe recently made a hefty contribution to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) for its role in a major trust fund lawsuit. If other tribes followed suit, NARF’s ability to continue advocating for tribal rights could be enhanced, a key official said.

John Echohawk, NARF executive director, recognized the Nez Perce for their contribution of $3 million to the organization, announced July 30. Echohawk said NARF understands “it’s the largest single donation, from what we can remember here.”

The lawsuit, filed in 2006 against the United States government, sought historical accounting of the tribe’s funds and assets held in trust by the government. The Nez Perce Tribe was one of more than 100 tribes to file such claims, about half of which were represented by NARF.

“We have known them for a long time,” Echohawk said of NARF’s relationship with the Nez Perce. “In years past, we represented them on their tribal water rights settlement.”

“We asked them to be lead plaintiff on behalf of 41 tribes and they agreed to do it. It was originally joined by 11 other tribes in the filing in 2006,” he said, noting that some 30 tribes later joined the trust funds case.

The Department of the Interior late last year chose to settle the lawsuits rather than take them to trial, according to a press release prepared by NARF, and the administration later announced settlements totaling more than $1 billion for more than 40 tribes, forestalling years of potentially difficult litigation.

“We’ve represented many tribes on this issue and we’re hoping other tribes will also consider contributing to the settlement fund to support the work of NARF in the future,” Echohawk said.

The Nez Perce Tribe issued a statement praising NARF for its work in the tribal trust case on the behalf of their tribe and many other tribes, describing NARF as “a true advocate for tribes all over Indian country” and concluding that it hopes their contribution “will continue to carry that work forward into the future.”

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