Tribes start receiving settlement money; Makah are beneficiaries of $25 million

Peninsula Daily News and The Associated Press

Some Native American tribes have started receiving their shares of a $1 billion settlement with the U.S. government over mismanagement of their money and trust lands, while others are waiting and remain undecided on what to do with their funds.

The Makah tribe in Neah Bay — one of 44 tribes across the nation who are receiving money from the settlement — is receiving $25 million.

Tribal officials did not confirm or deny Saturday that they had received the money.

Several Montana tribes, including the Blackfeet, have received their shares, according to the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune, The Associated Press reported.

The settlement, announced in March by the Justice Department and the Interior Department, is for money lost in mismanaged accounts and from royalties for oil, gas, grazing and timber rights on tribal lands.

The Makah was the only tribe on the North Olympic Peninsula listed on the settlement.

“The Tribal Council has established uses for the settlement monies to include timber land acquisition, debt reduction and economic development and jobs creation,” Michael J. Lawrence, vice chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, said in a letter sent to members of the tribe in April.

Lawrence said the settlement money “is not a gift or windfall to the tribe” but rather “an estimate of how much money was lost to the tribe through the United State's mismanagement of the Makah tribe's trust funds and breach of its trust responsibility.”

In addition to the Makah, tribes in Washington state included in the settlement are the Tulalip, Swinomish, Colville, Nooksack and Spokane.

Negotiations continue on dozens of other cases.

The Makah filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 26, 2006.

The lawsuit said the federal government had not provided an accounting of trust funds and non-monetary assets and had mismanaged both.

The Makah Tribal Council authorized the chairman to sign the settlement Feb. 28, the letter said, and it was signed April 9.

Money was expected to be received as a one-time payment within two to six weeks of the chairman's execution of the agreement, Lawrence said.

The Makah will have complete authority over how it is spent, Lawrence said, emphasizing that it will not be held in trust by the United States.

The tribes sued in an attempt to receive an accounting of the Interior Department's management of the trust funds and to learn how much had been lost.

Their claims dealt with tribal trust funds and not individual trust funds, which is addressed in a $3.4 billion class-action settlement led by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet woman who died last year.

Blackfeet Chairman T.J. Show said tribal leaders will soon distribute $9 million of the $19 million his tribe is due to receive.

That's about $550 per person, which Show said will help residents on a reservation where the unemployment rate is between 70 percent and 80 percent.

The other $10 million has been earmarked for investment in projects such as a 90-room hotel to be built on the reservation, Show said.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes said they have not yet received their settlement money and that tribal leaders have not decided what to do with the $150 million when it comes.

The tribal council is taking suggestions in meetings that run through July 9, but members do not know when a decision will be made.

The Interior Department manages more than 100,000 leases on tribal trust lands and about 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 federally recognized tribes.

The largest settlement is $193 million to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington, while the smallest, $25,000, goes to the tiny Nooksack tribe, also in Washington state.

In Montana, settlements are going to the Blackfeet, Sioux and Assiniboine, Chippewa Cree, Northern Cheyenne and Salish and Kootenai tribes.

Last modified: June 23. 2012 6:47PM
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