Cobell becomes law
WASHINGTON DC—After a long legal and political journey, the Cobell Settlement was finally settled and signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 signed into law on December 8, includes the $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of Native American trust accounts and resources. This law includes four water rights agreements totalling more than $1 billion, promising to deliver clean drinking water to tribes in New Mexico, Arizona and Montana, ending decades of water allocation controversy among neighboring communities.
"Today the President has taken another giant step toward fulfilling this administration's pledge to meet our trust responsibilities." Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated. "...to empower tribal governments and help build safer, stronger and more prosperous tribal communities. These historic settlements mark a new chapter in our work to strengthen the nation to nation relationship with Indian Country."
The Cobell agreement resolves the 14-year, highly contentious class action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of individual Native American trust accounts and resources. Under the settlement, $1.5 billion will be distributed to class members in compensation for their historical accounting claims and to resolve potential claims that the United States mismanaged the administration of trust assets. The agreement also establishes a $1.9 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the division of land interests through succeeding generations.
"After 123 years of living with what Congress once called the 'Broken Trust,' people throughout Indian Country will see Wednesday [December 8, 2010] as a monumental day," said Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Nation and a banker.
For Ms. Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit, the signing of this legislation approving the settlement of the dispute sends an historic message to Indian Country. "...the nation's political leaders placed their seal of approval on the settlement of our fight in the courts," she said. "The successful enactment of The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 confirms that both Congress and the executive branch believe that our settlement is fair and proper—a good deal for all," Cobell said.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the fractionated interests—up to $60 million—will go to an Indian scholarship fund.