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American Indians reach trust settlement with federal government

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official websites] announced a $1.023 billion settlement [DOJ press release] with 41 American Indian Tribes Wednesday. The announcement comes following a 22-month negotiation period after the tribes alleged in a class action that the DOI and the Department of the Treasury [official website] mismanaged money [DOI materials] held in a tribe trust account, trust lands and leases for various natural resources held by the government. The DOI holds nearly 56 million acres in trust and has leases for various uses including housing, timber, harvesting, farming, grazing, oil and gas extraction, business leasing, right of ways and easements. Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the settlement, "fairly and honorably resolves historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds, trust lands and other non-monetary trust resources that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States." Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar hopes this will strengthen the relationship between the federal government and Indian governments. Under this negotiated settlement litigation will now end. There should be no delay in congressional approval because money for the settlement has already been appropriated [AP report] under a judgement fund.

Congress established the Indian trust in 1887 to hold proceeds from government-arranged leases of Indian lands. Last October, a federal judge approved a $3.4 billion settlement [JURIST report] between American Indians and the US government clearing the way for appeals of the settlement to begin. The deadline for approval was extended in 2010 after Congress was granted additional time [JURIST reports] to consider the settlement. In July 2009, the district court ordered [JURIST report] the DOI to provide an accounting of the trust to the court. In 2008, a judge rejected claims that the government had engaged in fraud, bud held [JURIST reports] that the DOI "unreasonably delayed" the accounting of billions of dollars of American Indian money. The case went to trial in 2008 after a rejected settlement [JURIST reports] in 2007.

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