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U.S. settles Indian trust lawsuit

Hualapai Indians at the Hualapai Reservation in Ariz.

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Kai Ryssdal: Fourteen years ago, a group of Native Americans sued the federal government. They said the Departments of Interior and Justice had mismanaged their lands, and the money that's sitting in government trust funds. That suit was settled today. The government's gonna pay $3.4 billion to a half-million Native Americans who have claims on trust funds established more than a century ago. From Washington, Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


JOHN DIMSDALE: In 1887, the government divvied up tribal lands to individual Native Americans. But Indians preferred communal ownership. So, the government leased the land for development and set up trust accounts for the individuals. Handed down over the generations, plots ended up with multiple family members as owners. In 1996, 300,000 Native Americans joined a class-action lawsuit claiming the government mismanaged the lands and the accounts. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder seemed relieved to have settled.

ERIC HOLDER: What began in 1996 has seen seven full trials constituting 192 trial days, has resulted in 22 published judicial decisions, and has been the subject of intense and sometimes difficult litigation.

Class-action members will get a $1,000 each, plus reimbursement for their individual accounts. Congress and the court must approve the settlement. Native Americans claim the government owes them over $45 billion. But today, Eloise Cobell, who brought the original lawsuit, said it's time to take the government's $3.4-billion offer.

ELOISE COBELL: We are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation.

The government will also create a $60 million federal higher-education scholarship for Native Americans and reform the way government manages Indian trust accounts.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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