Interior to start disbursing checks to American Indians

Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. in Dec. 2009. Elouise Cobell, right, looks on as Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes testifies during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. in Dec. 2009. Evan Vucci/AP File Photo

The settlement in a major class action lawsuit between the federal government and hundreds of thousands of American Indians has been finalized, allowing for the distribution of $3.4 billion in funds, officials announced Monday.

Final approval for the settlement in Cobell v. Salazar came Nov. 24, following the expiration of the case’s appeal period. “With the settlement now final, we can put years of discord behind us and start a new chapter in our nation-to-nation relationship,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

The case began in 1996 after Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet leader, filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for mismanagement of land trust royalties. Congress approved the settlement in 2010 and courts upheld it during the appeals process. 

Under the settlement, $1.5 billion will be distributed to 500,000 American Indians in stages, with the first group starting to see checks of up to $1,000 by Christmas, according to an Associated Press report. The agreement also sets up a fund for a land consolidation program and establishes a youth scholarship.

“Through the hard work and good will of plaintiffs, Interior and Treasury officials and Department of Justice counsel, we are turning a new page and look forward to collaboratively working with Indian country to manage these important funds and assets,” Hilary Tompkins, the Interior Department’s solicitor, said in a statement.

Cobell passed away in October following a fight with cancer. The White House commended her advocacy work.  

“While Elouise Cobell, the named plaintiff in this case is no longer with us, her legacy will be a renewed commitment to our trust relationship with Indian Country,” President Obama said in a statement.

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