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Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.)

Senator Walsh’s No Nonsense Approach to Resolving Cobell

Rob Capriccioso

Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.) is tired of hearing excuses about why it has taken so long for money from the $3.4 billion Cobell trust settlement to make it into the hands of Native Americans.

Yes, an initial payment of $1,000 went out to Indian class members December 2012; but since then Walsh says the Department of the Interior has been sluggish in helping get the second payment out by timely verifying those who are eligible. And Interior, he notes with added chagrin, has also received much tribal criticism regarding its slow progress in carrying out the $1.9 billion land buy-back component of the deal that’s supposed to reduce land fractionation on many reservations.

Walsh introduced legislation in May that’s intended to both speed up the second payment and strengthen the buy-back program, allowing more tribal control over it and placing the money in an interest-bearing account that would grow more money for Indian country.

In a recent interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Walsh expanded on his Cobell concerns:

Since you introduced your legislation, there has been some positive movement from Interior speeding up land buy-back offers to tribes. Are you disappointed that you had to introduce such legislation in the first place?

I am. The people believed that this settlement was moving forward. I’m disappointed in the administration’s actions to not carry out in good faith what was supposed to happen.

Who should be faulted?

The Department of the Interior.

Did you communicate with the Department before introducing your legislation?

No, I didn’t. You know one of the first trips that I took after I was sworn in [in February], Sen. [Jon] Tester [D-Mont.] and I traveled around visiting with the different tribes. These were issues that were brought up on numerous occasions. When we came back and talked about it, I felt we need to do something. So we introduced the legislation.

What were your Native constituents telling you?

First of all, they were concerned that this money was just sitting there. It isn’t drawing interest. And as it is right now, if the money isn’t allocated in 10 years, it will go back to the Department of Treasury. There is a lot of concern from Indian country that the timeline will not be met, and the money will be lost.

What’s your understanding of why the Department of the Interior has been taking longer than you would like on these matters?

They didn’t have a process in place to distribute the resources. That’s one of the things this bill does. There is already a process here. It just isn’t being used. It’s called the 638 contracting process. My bill would allow Interior to use the 638 process to distribute these funds. This process would give the tribes more buy-in and control, and then things would go much better and smoother.


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dinagw's picture
Submitted by dinagw on
And we are to believe a congressional bill will move faster than the DoI to get the money distributed? And don't you just love the use of the term "our Native Americans" in Montana? Senator Walsh, it's rude to refer to Indians as though they somehow belong to you. They (I would say "we" if I lived in Montana) belong to no one but themselves and their ancestral nations. You are not their patron. You only work for them.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I have the requisite distrust of politicians, but Senator Walsh seems sincerely interested in helping. I believe that voting in America is choosing the lesser of two evils, but sometimes a gem makes it through the process. The Democrats have my vote because they seem genuinely concerned over Native welfare and seem to be trying to help. Remember this when it comes time to vote. One side seems to want to help, the other side would like to ship us all to Mexico as illegal aliens (which is really ironic considering THEY'RE the illegal aliens).

siouxgal44's picture
Submitted by siouxgal44 on
My understanding from contact with the Cobell Lawyers is the second payment is being held up because the Department of the Interior is waiting on an independent contractor to update the Data. HELLO, this entire lawsuit is because the Department of the Interior , BIA did not maintain good records of Individual Indian money accounts. Who is the Independent Contractor, and what are they doing? What's the time line for updating data. Who doing the data entry, do they need help? How about a senator or congressman actually walking over to the Department of the Interior and asking to see what this CONTRACTOR is doing..... In the private sector if I as a manager had done as poor a job as Sally Jewel and her BIA management team have done I would have been fired.... Sharon Redlodge Ft Peck Sioux