[This diary originally appeared Sunday as part of the on-going series, First Nations News & Views. The series is one element of the "Invisible Indians" project coordinated by navajo and me in collaboration with other members of the Native American Netroots group. You can see the entire 11th edition of the series here and here are all previous editions. MB]
In just over three years, the Obama administration has done more for American Indians than any administration since Lyndon Johnson called for an end of termination policy 44 years ago. A good deal of that has to do with simply being a good listener. But the administration is also building a solid record of compensating the tribes for decades of government bungling and behavior that, labeled properly, was outright theft.
The latest move, announced April 11, is the billion-dollar settlement with 41 tribes from Maine to California. Funding does not have to be approved by Congress because it has already been allocated in the Judgment Fund. The settlement ends a 22-month-long negotiation between the tribes and the United States over more than a century of mismanagement of concessions granted to non-Indians by the departments of Interior and the Treasury. Interior oversees 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by the government. The concessions cover various resources, including minerals, timber, oil and gas, and grazing rights.
"They literally could not tell the tribal beneficiary how much money was in the account, or how much money was in it or where it was going,"says Matthew Fletcher. [...]Fletcher, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, teaches indigenous law at Michigan State University and is director of the MSU College of Law's Indigenous Law and Policy Center.
"You know there’s sort of a moral trust responsibility of the federal government to Indian tribes. And that plays a key role," Fletcher says. "That’s why you have press conferences with the attorney general saying 'We’re doing the things that we should have been doing 50 years ago or 100 years ago.'"Matthew Fletcher
The agreement is in addition to the $3.4 billion settlement over trust-land mismanagement in a class-action lawsuit brought by the late Elouise Cobell, aka Yellow Bird Woman (Niitsítapi-Blackfoot Confederacy). The Cobell settlement covered cases brought by 300,000 individual Indians. That settlement is being appealed in federal court.
The federal government settled with the Osage for $380 million in October and $760 million in the Keepseagle v. Vilsack case in 2010. The latter was brought by individual American Indian farmers and ranchers in a class-action suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They accused the department of discrimination in administering loan programs.
"These important settlements reflect President Obama’s continuing commitment to ensuring empowerment and reconciliation for American Indians," said Secretary [of the Interior Ken] Salazar. "It strengthens the government-to-government relationship with Tribal nations, helps restore a positive working relationship with Indian Country leaders and empowers American Indian communities."
All tribes have had a dark relationship with the federal government, said Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, whose reservation covers southwest Colorado, southeast Utah and northern New Mexico. But the settlements will assist tribal governments in supplementing decades of inadequate funding throughout Indian Country, helping to improve public safety, infrastructure and health care, he said.
"The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future and continue for generations to come," Hayes said.
The tribes receiving a portion of the $1.023 billion settlement are:
Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation; Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Blackfeet Tribe; Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians; Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of Colusa Rancheria; Coeur d'Alene Tribe; Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Reservation; Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation; Hualapai Tribe; Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians of Arizona; Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas; Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians; Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians; Makah Tribe of the Makah Reservation; Mescalero Apache Nation; Minnesota Chippewa Tribe; Nez Perce Tribe; Nooksack Tribe.
Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine; Pawnee Nation; Pueblo of Zia; Quechan Indian Tribe of the Fort Yuma Reservation; Rincon Luiseño Band of Indians; Round Valley Tribes; Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community; Santee Sioux Tribe; Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation; Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians; Spirit Lake Dakotah Nation; Spokane Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of the Fort Yates Reservation; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community; Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians; Tohono O'odham Nation; Tulalip Tribe; Tule River Tribe; Ute Mountain Ute Tribe; Ute Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation.