U.S. settles Indian trust lawsuit

Hualapai Indians at the Hualapai Reservation in Ariz.


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.
Log in to post3 Comments

Being half shoshone indian I would love to here more about this. My tribe is the shoshone bannok in fort hall idaho. Do we get any of this?

Please complete the equation and inform the public how much the lawyers are being paid at the taxpayers and the aggreived native americans expense....looks to me like another huge buying of votes and a political payoff to the lawyers...has anyone of your investigative journalists done a check on the law firm involved and their political affiliations and contributions?????

Many's the time I wish you folks would do the arithmetic. When 300,000 individuals get $1000 each as their share of a 3.4 billion dollar settlement, it raises a flag in any self respecting fifth grader, OK. Sixth grader. Apparently screwing the Indians is not worth mentioning. Why should a brief addendum about 60 million dollar education fund satisfy the desire to know where 90% of the funds went and how they'd be administered. Wasn't that the real point of the suit? Fund mismanagement?

The division problem:
4.5*10 to the 10th stolen.
3.4*10 to the 9th returned.
(=41.6 billion still stolen)
3.0*10 to the fifth distributed.
X to the lawyers...~1.1*10 to the 9th?
(~2.3 billion left unreported by you)
6*10 to the 7th to the Ed. fund... Trivial.

But it's 2009, there's no reason to be concerned about accounting practices. Maybe they can insure the investments.
Marketplace can get back to some local Hollywood news now. Whew, math sucks.

It could be worse. Our local NPR station reported that it will be partly sunny tonight about 4 or 5 times this summer, before they caught it. But we are not really listening for comprehension, are we?

With Generous Support From...