Federal judge approves settlement in 15-year American Indian trust suit
Federal judge approves settlement in 15-year American Indian trust suit
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[JURIST] Judge Thomas Hogan of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] Monday approved [DOI press release] a $3.4 billion settlement [agreement, PDF] in the American Indian trust [news archive] class-action lawsuit. The suit has been underway for 15 years, with a federal judge approving of the most expensive class-action settlement against the US government [AP report] ever approved. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official websites] applauded the settlement reached between American Indians and the US government. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] stated that “Judge Hogan’s decision is another milestone in empowerment and reconciliation for the American Indians.” Plaintiff Elouise Cobell delivered a statement for the hearing through the phone, from her home in Montana. Cobell stated [statement]:

The terms of settlement bring a measure of justice to some of the most vulnerable people in this country. The settlement isn’t perfect. I do not think it compensates all for all the losses sustained, but I do think it is fair and it is reasonable. That is what matters—a fair resolution has been achieved. I am convinced that it is the best settlement possible. I am convinced also that if this settlement failed, there would be many more years of litigation with little possibility of a more favorable resolution.

President Barack Obama [official website] expressed hope [statement] that this settlement will improve the relationship between the US government and American Indians and promised to “engage in government-to-government consultations” with the tribes over the land consolidation part of the settlement.

In October 2010, Hogan extended the deadline [JURIST report] for Congress to approve the $3.4 billion settlement concerning the US government’s alleged mismanagement of funds [DOI materials] held in trust for American Indian landowners. Hogan set a new deadline for January 7, 2011, reasoning that this would allow the lame-duck session of Congress a final chance to approve the settlement. This is the seventh time an extension has been granted since the settlement was agreed upon [JURIST report] in December 2009. The House of Representatives has twice approved the settlement, but the US Senate, which will reconvene on November 15, has yet to vote on the issue. Hogan urged Congress to accept the settlement and meet the January extension, warning that costly litigation for both parties would follow further delay. The plaintiffs had rejected [JURIST report] a $7 billion settlement offer in 2007.