Judge Approves Largest Settlement Ever against U.S. Government…$3.4 Billion

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Elouise Cobell (photo: Montana & Minds, Montana State U.)
A federal judge has approved the largest settlement ever against the U.S. government, clearing the way for more than a billion dollars to be distributed among thousands of American Indians.
The agreement ends one of the longest and most complicated lawsuits ever brought against the government, which, as a result of the actions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was accused of cheating tribal land owners out of money paid from leases for mining, livestock grazing, timber harvesting and drilling for oil and gas.
Under the $3.4 billion settlement, $1.5 billion will go to at least 300,000 Indians. Another $1.9 billion will be used to buy back and consolidate tribal land that had become subdivided and difficult to manage. And $60 million will go to a scholarship fund for Indian students.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs will receive $99 million, which is less than half of what they wanted but nearly double the $50 million that the government had recommended.
The suit was originally filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. Cobell, recovering from cancer surgery, did not attend the final hearing, but did issue a statement by speaker phone in which she said, “The settlement isn't perfect. I do not think it compensates all for all the losses sustained, but I do think it is fair and it is reasonable.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


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