21 Jun 2011

US government apologies to indigenous with $3.4bn award

Good news but comes after the systematic theft of resources by corporations and US government

A US federal judge has approved a $3.4bn settlement over mismanaged Native American royalties, in a case that represents the largest settlement ever approved against the US government.

Elouise Cobell of Browning, Montana, claimed in the 15-year-old suit that for more than a century, US officials systematically stole or squandered billions in royalties intended for Native Americans in exchange for oil, gas, grazing and other leases.

Thomas Hogan, the US district judge, approved the settlement on Monday after a daylong hearing, saying the legitimacy of Cobell's claims could not be questioned.

"The government mismanaged these resources on a staggering scale," Hogan said.

The settlement does not make up for the losses native American tribes suffered for more than a century, Hogan added, but "at least it provides some certainty" to hundreds of thousands of individuals who will now receive payments of least $1,000 each from the government. Many will receive substantially more money.

Cobell, a member of the Blackfoot Tribe, will receive $2 million, and three other named plaintiffs will receive payments ranging from $150,000 to $200,000 each.

Battles and appeals

The government and lawyers representing Cobell settled the lawsuit in December 2009 after years of court battles and appeals. Congress approved the settlement at the end of last year, and Barack Obama, the US president, signed it into law.

But the case still needed Hogan's approval, which he provided late Monday after a hearing on the merits of the case and legal fees to be assessed.


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