Federal judge approves nearly $1 billion settlement between US government, tribes

[JURIST] A New Mexico federal judge on Tuesday approved [opinion, PDF; order, PDF] an almost $1 billion settlement [text, PDF] between the Obama administration and Native American tribes, attorneys for the tribes learned Wednesday. The tribes claimed that the US government had for decades underfunded contract costs for tribes to manage federal services such as education and law enforcement, even as far back as the 1970's. The approval [AP report] came about five months after the US Interior Department [official website] and tribal leaders announced that they had agreed on a possible settlement of $940 million. The judge also authorized that $1.2 million be paid to reimburse costs incurred by the plaintiff. It is expected that nearly 700 tribes or tribal agencies will claim compensation. The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled in favor of the tribes [JURIST report] in 2012, long after the case was first filed in 1990, and sent the case back to the lower courts prior to the announcement of the settlement agreement.

In 2012 UN Special Rapporteur on Rights of Indigenous People James Anaya visited [JURIST report] the US in order to launch the UN's first ever investigation into the rights situation of Native Americans. The US endorsed the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010, after being one of four member states originally opposed to the treaty when it was adopted by the UN [JURIST reports] in 2007. The other countries opposed to it, Canada, New Zealand and Australia [JURIST reports], have all also changed their views and have since endorsed the treaty. This non-binding treaty outlines the human rights issues faced by the more than 370 million indigenous people throughout the world and encourages nations not to discriminate against them. The declaration was debated for more than two decades before it was passed.

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