FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The federal government has finally closed a long, contentious chapter with American Indian tribes. They’ve finalized the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement, which accounts for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties.
The settlement was approved by President Barack Obama in December 2009. It became final Nov. 24 following action by the U.S. Supreme Court and expiration of the appeal period.
The settlement includes a $1.5 billion fund that will be distributed to class action members. A claims administrator will now begin overseeing the payments to nearly 500,000 class members.
The settlement also includes an almost $1.9 billion land consolidation program. It allows for the voluntary sale of individual interests on tribal land that have been split among owners, over successive generations since the 1880s. Owners will be paid fair market value with the understanding that the land will remain in trust and be consolidated for beneficial use by tribal communities.
Up to $60 million may also be set aside for scholarships for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The lead plaintiff, Blackfeet tribal member Elousie Cobell, died before the settlement was finalized. But she had said that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.