Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law - University of Tulsa College of Law
ads@blueearthmarketing.com   712.224.5420

Cobell
CFO Magazine: The Indian trust fund accounting


"Deep underneath an industrial park in Lenexa, Kansas — not far from Shawnee Mission Lake and Arapaho Park — the work goes on. In a vast underground warehouse, historians and archivists carefully unpack endless rows of boxes. The cartons, sent from far-flung federal warehouses and obscure outposts on Indian reservations, contain financial records collected over the years by government agencies.

Some of the items date to the late 19th century, back to the days of Indian chiefs Looking Glass, Red Cloud, and Gall. Once indexed, the documents — mostly leases and bills — are coded and entered into a government computer system. To date, workers in Lenexa have gone through some 160,000 boxes, processing nearly 40 million coded pages.

Those pages, sometimes little more than bits of paper, are pieces of a puzzle — a puzzle that the Department of the Interior (DoI) dubs The Historical Accounting Project for Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts. The purpose of the massive project is to reconcile, for the first time, individual trust accounts managed for decades and decades by the federal government on behalf of Native Americans.

By the time the project is completed in 2011, the accounting will have consumed $274 million over eight years. That dwarfs audits of large publicly traded companies, which tend to cost about $10 million. It is, noted former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, "an accounting project of unprecedented proportions."

It is also wildly controversial. Elouise Cobell, a former treasurer of the Blackfeet Nation who has sued the DoI to force this historical reckoning of the individual Indian trusts (Cobell v. Kempthorne), claims that more than $100 billion may be missing from the individual accounts. But Ross Swimmer, who heads up the Interior Department agency overseeing the project (as special trustee at the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, or OST), believes the amount owed to individual Indians is far less — more likely in the millions than billions."

Get the Story:
The Long Trail (CFO Magazine October 2007)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

Related Stories:
Cobell historical accounting trial starts October 10 (10/1)
BIA agency lacks accounting for millions in trust (09/25)
Audit finds Indian trust management problems (9/24)
Cobell: Upcoming trial tackles important issues (09/19)
Interior attorney to testify at upcoming Cobell trial (9/18)
DOI won't release trust data in Cobell case (9/11)
Interior attorney accused of disclosing trust data (08/29)
Judge opens electronic data to Cobell plaintiffs (07/10)
Another Cobell historical accounting hearing (7/9)
Judge expresses views on Indian trust fund accounting (06/19)
Hearing on Cobell historical accounting trial (6/18)
Cobell prepares for court battle on accounting (5/30)
Cobell prepares for historical accounting trial (5/18)
Judge prods DOI on Indian trust fund accounting (5/15)
First status conference for Cobell accounting trial (5/14)
Cobell status conference pushed back to May 14 (05/02)
Attorney calls $7B Cobell offer pennies on dollar (4/24)
Cobell heads to landmark accounting trial (4/23)
Judge orders Cobell accounting trial for October 10 (4/20)
Jodi Rave: Cobell calls for accountability (4/12)
BIA office in Palm Springs criticized by landowners (4/11)
BIA office in Palm Springs under investigation (4/10)
Editorial: No justice in $7B offer to settle Cobell (4/6)
Lawmaker questions $7B plan to settle trust cases (4/4)
Gonzales' trust testimony downplayed (3/30)
Listening Lounge: House hearing on BIA-OST (3/30)
Mediator suggests $7-9B settlement for Cobell (3/30)
Jodi Rave: Cobell calls trust offer 'insulting' (3/30)
Senate hearing on Indian trust fund litigation (3/29)
Gonzales won't testify on trust fund (3/28)
Supreme Court refuses Cobell appeals (3/27)
Editorial: The billion-dollar question (3/26)
Senate hearing on trust fund litigation on Thursday (3/26)
The downfall of J. Steven Griles (3/26)
Blast from the Past: NBC segment on Cobell (3/21)
Opinion: US owes Indians billions for theft (3/14)
Bush aide linked to Special Trustee firing resigns (3/14)
BIA names new director for Navajo regional office (3/14)
Mother Jones: Pennies on the dollar for Cobell (3/12)
Bush proposes $7B trust fund settlement (3/8)
Dorgan and Thomas disagree on Cobell settlement (1/22)
Jodi Rave: Cobell sees hope for case in new year (1/20)
NewStandard: Tribes turn to court over trust funds (01/08)
Jodi Rave: Interior mum on class action tribal suit (01/05)
Tribes file class action trust accounting lawsuit (01/04)