The Cobell class action lawsuit came to a close Nov. 24 when the period for appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court expired.
“I welcome the final approval of the Cobell settlement agreement, clearing the way for reconciliation between the trust beneficiaries and the federal government,” said President Barack Obama in a statement. “While Elouise Cobell, the named plaintiff in this case is no longer with us, her legacy will be a renewed commitment to our trust relationship with Indian Country. I thank her for her honorable work, and also want to thank the leaders at the Departments of the Interior, Justice and Treasury who helped reach this conclusion.”
With the settlement now final the $1.5 billion fund can be distributed to class members. The fund also provides for a land consolidation program that allows for the voluntary sale of individual land interests that have “fractionated,” or split among owners, over successive generations, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“Fractionated land can have many owners – sometimes hundreds or more – diminishing the land’s value and making it difficult for individuals to use the land for agriculture, business development, or housing from which tribes can benefit, according to the statement.
Also to be used with the fund is $60 million to provide scholarships for Native Americans to attend college or vocational schools.
There are nearly 500,000 class members payments will be disbursed to. The U.S. Department of the Treasury will transfer the $1.5 billion to an account at JP Morgan Chase, a bank approved by the court, said the release. Per the terms of the settlement agreement, the Interior’s Office of the Special Trustee (OST) will be assisting GCG, Inc., the approved Claims Administrator, with GCG’s database by supplying contact information of individual class members from its records.
“We will continue to work with GCG to ensure it has the information it needs to make expeditious and accurate payments,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “At the same time, we’re focused on making meaningful improvements to our trust administration so that we’re more transparent, responsive and accountable in managing these substantial funds and assets.”
Trust Land Consolidation Program
The Department of the Interior will use $1.9 billion from the Trust Land Consolidation Fund to acquire interests in trust and restricted lands that have “fractionated” over successive generations since the 1880s, according to a statement from the DOI.
Individual owners will be paid fair market value for such interests with the understanding that the acquired interests will remain in trust and be consolidated for beneficial use by tribal communities, according to the DOI. Interested sellers may convey their fractional interests on a voluntary basis. Currently, there are over 2.9 million fractional interests owned by approximately 260,000 individuals, according to the DOI.
Congress approved the Cobell settlement on Nov. 30, 2010 as part of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. President Obama signed the legislation on December 8, 2010. The district court approved the Cobell settlement on Aug. 4, 2011 and it has been upheld through the appeals process.
According to Indianz.com, most Indian class members will receive less than $2,000, while the Cobell lawyers will receive nearly $100 million.
For additional information about the individual class-action payments, please contact GCG, Inc. at 1-800-961-6109 or via email atInfo@IndianTrust.com.
For additional information on the Trust Land Consolidation Program, please visit http://www.doi.gov/cobell/index.cfm