Government

First round of Cobell settlement sent to Indian Country

The first round of settlement checks for the historical class-action case of Cobell v. Salazar have been mailed and are reportedly reaching Native Americans across the country.

The first checks for the Historical Accounting class (Individual Indian Money account holders) were mailed Dec. 17 and were for $1,000. Checks for the Trust Administration class will be distributed at a later date, according to indiantrust.com.

The final deadline for submitting a claim for the Trust Administration class is March 1, 2013. Visit the indiantrust.com Web site for more information.

The $3.4 billion settlement, in which Cobell proved the United States government mismanaged Native American trust accounts since the late 1800s, was signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 8, 2010. As part of that settlement, $1.5 billion was set-aside for individuals and $1.9 billion was set-aside for a Trust Land Consolidation Fund.

The majority of the estimated 400,000 settlement recipients are in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

According to Indianz.com, most Indian class members will receive less than $2,000.

The settlement is non-taxable and will not affect eligibility for government benefits, according to indiantrust.com. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010, H.R. 4783, specifically prohibits settlement awards from being treated as gross income or a resource. Any settlement recipient who gets taxed for settlement money needs to contact the Internal Revenue Service to get a refund. This also includes the Osage Trust Case settlement of 2011.

Protect Native money

With Native Americans receiving the settlement, the National Congress of American Indians has launched an organization called Protect Native Money. The organization has issued Public Service Announcements around Indian Country in an effort to raise awareness about fraud and scams targeting IIM account holders.

“This settlement can benefit you, your family and your communities, but we must all be aware of the potential negative impacts. You or others may be a target for scams,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw). “Dishonest people know about the settlement and are figuring ways to take money from you. Be aware and be watchful. If you suspect a scam, you can contact your State’s Attorney General Office of Consumer Protection or your tribe.”  

Keel and NCAI are encouraging Native people to become educated and visit the organization’s site for more information atwww.ncai.org/protectnativemoney.

Cobell

The Cobell class action lawsuit came to a close Nov. 24 when the period for appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court expired. The Supreme Court denied Kimberly Craven’s appeal and the three other challengers dropped their appeals after Cobell attorneys offered to pay their legal fees.

“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 Nov. 26. “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.”

The settlement fund also provides for a trust land consolidation program that allows for the voluntary sale of individual land interests that have “fractionated,” or split among owners since the 1880s, 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.

Currently, there are more than 2.9 million fractional interests owned by approximately 260,000 individuals, according to the DOI.

Also to be used with the fund is $60 million to provide scholarships for Native Americans to attend college or vocational schools.

For questions or concerns, contact the Indian Trust Settlement Claims Administrator by phone at 1-800-961-6109, by email at info@indiantrust.comor in writing at Indian Trust Settlement, P.O. Box 9577, Dublin, OH 43017-4877.