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February 24th, 2010

Native Americans finally get paid



William Reed

The issue of racial recompense remains wanting in America. Note should be taken of what is happening to the people at the bottom of the nation’s economic barrel, Native Americans.

It’s not true that every Native American gets a fat check each month. It’s definitely myth that the government pays them a monthly check for land White people took from them. True, some tribes have casinos, logging, oil, grazing lands, etc., but nothing to them has been free or without rancor.

The Native American population is the poorest of the poor. Those living on reservations might own their humble homes, but they do not necessarily own the land where their home rests. Other reservations provide modest government issued housing for everyone, with no opportunity for them to even own a home. The 26 percent Native American poverty rate is not statistically different from rates for African-Americans and Hispanics, but higher than those for non-Hispanic Whites, and Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Government policies and practices, past and present, have contributed to the bilking and bamboozlement of Native Americans for hundreds of years. For more than the past century, an untold amount of money due some of the nation’s poorest residents was lost, stolen or never collected. But based on Barack Obama’s initiative, a government settlement will allow more Native Americans wealth they are owed. Obama administration’s has settled the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed against the Federal government. Under agreement to the long-running and contentious lawsuit over royalties owed to American Indians, the Interior Department will distribute a fund of $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 tribe members to compensate them for historical accounting claims, and to resolve future claims that trust assets were mismanaged by U.S. officials.

The settlement resolves the case in which Indians claim they were swindled out of billions of dollars in oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties overseen by the Interior Department since 1887. Interior currently manages about 56 million acres of Indian trust land, administering more than 100,000 leases and about $3.5 billion in trust funds. The settlement also establishes a $2 billion fund for a land consolidation program, which will also incorporate a college and vocational school scholarship fund for American Indian students. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the settlement a historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step to reconcile decades of acrimony between Indian tribes and the federal government.

The Office of Special Trustee was established by Congress in 1994 to reform financial management of the trust system. Indians sued in 1996, claiming the mismanagement cost them between $10 billion and $40 billion. While the case came in less than requested, it endured hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals, and several trials over past years. Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe, who has work experience as a banker was the lead plaintiff. A recipient of the coveted MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award", Cobell was frustrated; first with the Clinton administration and then the Bush Interior Department that managed the trust accounts, as the government sought to downplay the case as merely a bookkeeping problem. The pivot turning point came when candidate Barack Obama visited in Montana at the Crow Indian Reservation. While Obama was there, two elder members spoke to him of the case.

Cobell says she hopes the settlement can "help break the cycle of poverty that has held too many families in poverty for generations." The settlement gives every tribe member with an Interior Department account an immediate check for $1,000, with additional payments to be determined later. The settlement does not include a formal apology for any wrongdoing by the U.S. government. Unfortunately, government policies not only hinder Native peoples from gaining wealth as defined by the mainstream society, it has also deprived them of their traditional wealth. The recent settlement should be just the first in a series of steps of reparations.

For more information on the Settlement or if you believe you are an individual Indian beneficiary, view website Settlement Information for American Indians.

3.5 / 5 (2 Votes)

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Reader Response
  • Richard Treadwell
  • February 24th, 2010 It's about time the Native American received soemthing from the holocaust they were put through. The jews complain about Hitlers holocaust, they've got nothing on the Native American. Entire tribes of indians were wiped off the face of the earth.

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