Interior Department officials would distribute $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 American Indians under a proposed settlement of a 13-year lawsuit tribes brought against the federal government for mishandling their trust funds.
The deal would set up a $2 billion fund to consolidate tribal and individual lands which may have hundreds of owners with fractional ownership interests.
Five percent of the value of those interests would be put into a college and vocational school scholarship fund for Indian students.
"This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
Tribes have claimed they have lost billions of dollars in royalties for oil, gas, grazing, timber and other uses of 56 million acres of Indian trust lands because of faulty government accounting. Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the case, said she hopes the settlement can "help break the cycle of poverty that has held too many families in poverty for generations."
Attorney General Eric Holder noted the settlement still needs the approval of Congress and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.