WASHINGTON, D.C. – American Indians with federal trust accounts soon will be receiving notification about their rights to participate in the $3.4 billion settlement approved last year in the class-action lawsuit known as Cobell, the Interior Department announced on Wednesday, January 26. Hundreds of thousands of Indians across the country will receive detailed information through the mail. The department also is conducting an extensive media campaign. The notifications are part of the court-ordered process in the long-running and contentious case; the settlement has yet to receive formal approval by the U.S. district judge overseeing the case.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, “The court-ordered process is now spreading the word so individual Indian trust account holders can understand what their rights are and how they can participate in the settlement.”
The settlement followed more than 14 years of litigation in federal district and appeals courts in Washington over the mismanagement of individual Indian trust accounts by the U.S. government. The accounts hold the proceeds from land leased for oil and gas drilling, grazing, timber cutting and other uses. An estimated 50,000 account holders live in Oklahoma.
Of the $3.4 billion settlement, more than $1.4 billion will be used to make payments to Indians who have or had trust accounts within certain date ranges. For many, the payment will be a flat $1,000, while others will get additional amounts based on how much revenue was received in their accounts. About $1.9 billion of the settlement will be used by the department to buy parcels of land that have been divided up many times over the last century as they’ve been passed down to heirs. Administering trust accounts related to some parcels costs more than the accounts receive in revenue. Some of the settlement will be used for a scholarship fund for Indians and for legal fees.
How to get more information: Those Indians who currently receive individual Indian money account statements don’t have to do anything to receive a payment from the settlement. Those who don’t receive statements and who don’t get a notification, but believe they’re entitled to a payment, should call (800) 961-6109 or fill out a claim form available at www.indiantrust.com.