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Landmark Native American Lawsuit Settled

Navajo Times, Posted: Jan 05, 2010

After 13 litigious years, the landmark case Cobell v. Salazar was settled Dec. 7, reports the Navajo Times.

The $3.4 billion settlement is the largest ever by the U.S. government, yet it's a mere fraction of the $40 billion some accountants estimate the feds owe individual Indian plaintiffs for mismanaging their trust assets.

Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell said she had mixed feelings about the settlement, but wanted to see the case resolved before any more plaintiffs pass away.

For most of the 500,000 plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, it will mean a payment of $1,500 with the remaining funds divvied up when the lawyers are paid and all the claims are in.

The government has also set up a $2 billion fund that tribes can use to buy back allotted land they would like the Interior Department to take back into trust, and $60 million for scholarships for Native American students.

But for Ervin Chavez, president of Shii Shi Keyah, the organization that represents the Navajo Nation's 42,000 allottees, the best part of the settlement is that the feds have agreed to some major changes in their accounting practices that will hopefully prevent future mismanagement.

"The settlement doesn't make up for our losses," Chavez said in a phone interview. "Indian people have taken a lot more loss than most people will ever know. Hopefully what we've done is to spend $4 or $5 billion to redo the trust issue."

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