Interior Secretary Salazar announces final steps on Cobell settlement

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2012 - Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar today outlined steps the department will take to implement a $3.4 billion settlement made final November 24. The Cobell settlement resolves a long-running class action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and historical accounting of individual American Indian trust accounts.

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“With the settlement now final, we can put years of discord behind us and start a new chapter in our nation-to-nation relationship,” Salazar said.

The settlement includes a $1.5 billion fund to be distributed to class members for accounting and potential trust fund and asset mismanagement claims. The settlement also includes a $1.9 billion fund for a land consolidation program that allows for the voluntary sale of individual land interests that have “fractionated,” or split among owners, over successive generations. Fractionated land can have many owners - sometimes hundreds or more - diminishing the land's value and making it difficult for individuals to use the land for agriculture, business development, or housing from which tribes can benefit, noted the Interior Department. Up to $60 million of the $1.9 billion fund may be set aside to provide scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives to attend college or vocational school.

“This marks the historic conclusion of a contentious and long running period of litigation,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor for the Department of the Interior. “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.”

The Claims Administrator will now begin overseeing disbursement of the $1.5 billion to nearly 500,000 class members. The court previously approved GCG, Inc., as the Claims Administrator. The Department of the Treasury will transfer the $1.5 billion to an account at JP Morgan Chase, a bank approved by the court. Per the terms of the settlement agreement, Interior's Office of the Special Trustee (OST) has assisted GCG with its database by supplying contact information of individual class members from its records.

The Department of the Interior will use $1.9 billion from the Trust Land Consolidation Fund to acquire interests in trust and restricted lands that have “fractionated” over successive generations since the 1880s. Currently, there are over 2.9 million fractional interests owned by approximately 260,000 individuals.

Congress approved the Cobell settlement on November 30, 2010 as part of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. President Obama signed the legislation on December 8, 2010. The district court approved the Cobell settlement on August 4, 2011 and it has been upheld through the appeals process.

For additional information on the Trust Land Consolidation Program, please visit http://www.doi.gov/cobell/index.cfm

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