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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Tribal Trusts – Numbers And Words

by Bobbie Hart O’NeillThe federal government has botched royalty payments to Native Americans for more than a century. THE NUMBERS – 1887 – The year the federal government set up trust funds to manage mining and other royalties due Native Americans. 13 – It’s been 13 years since a report was sent to Congress that the Interior Department had mismanaged Indian trust funds due to Native Americans. 300,000 to 500,000 – The number of Native Americans owed money according to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking restitution. $100 billion-plus – This is the amount Native Americans claim they are owed. $40 million – The cost of failed computer systems to manage the Indian trust accounts. 4 – The number of years the Bureau of Indian Affairs Internet connection has been shut down by court order for lax security related to the trust fund case. 3 – The three Cabinet members held in contempt of court over the Indian trust case. These numbers come from an August 1st editorial in The Arizona Republic. Natives say they would accept $27.5 billion to settle the nine-year suit. The Interior Department supports the idea of a settlement but it would require reasonable terms and conditions that are suitable to Congress, the courts, the plaintiffs, and ultimately the American taxpayers. THE WORDS – John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of Senate Indian Affairs Committee, has an answer to the problem “if words don’t get in the way”, but McCain says the $27.5 billion is too high an amount to get through Congress. The Indians figure it is a bargain compared with the more than $!00 billion they say is owned to them. The payments, in question, are royalties for farming, grazing, mining, logging, and other economic activities on tribal lands. The federal government is supposed to collect the money and distribute it to thousands of individual Native Americans      McCain’s answer lies in Senate Bill 1439 drafted by McCain and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which was introduced to the Senate on Wednesday, July 20th.   Eloise Cobell, a Blackfoot Native activist from Montana, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and said when she received a copy of the bill. It made her so angry she couldn’t talk after reading it. She told the Internet’s “Montana Forum,” “I want to say some strong things like: ‘This is a disaster Let’s kill it’. But it will come back to haunt us.” The Internet’s “indianz.com” expresses their opinion. “The bill offered by U.S. Senator John McCain and U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan sent Indian country a low-ball deal, which in gaming terms means they sent the best bill for the guilty and the worst bill for the victims. “Senate Bill 1439 seeks to fix a hundred years of theft by only looking at the years of 1980 through 2005, because records crucial to the case – exposing the width and breadth of gross theft over the past 100 years – were destroyed.  This bill meant to bring justice is a slap in the face to its victims. “Democratic leader Dorgan points out that this is a starting point and as such it is the way they would like to see this happen. Tribes and their leaders certainly have other plans.” The Republic concludes its editorial with, “The McCain-Dorgan bill is an opportunity that both sides must seize and figure out together how to make it work.”

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