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Cobell | Opinion
Editorial: Indian trust case demands settlement


"Cobell v. Babbitt is now Cobell v. Salazar and running through its third presidential administration. Last week's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will delay further disposition of the 13-year-old lawsuit that affects around 500,000 Native Americans who have accounts held in trust by the U.S. government.

On the surface, the Appeals Court conclusion that the U.S. Department of Interior must provide an accounting of the American Indian accounts seems obvious. Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, of Browning, responded to the ruling by saying it affirmed that the government "cannot simply throw up its hands and stop the accounting."

However, accounting for accounts dating to 1887, and involving many more pieces of land and shares of interest than beneficiaries has proven to be unworkable. The system was poorly designed more than a century ago, and generations of deaths and splits of interest between survivors had added incredible complexity to accounting work that costs more than what many account holders are owed. At the same time, account holders are entitled to an accurate accounting and to the full value of the earnings on their shares in trust land.

This lawsuit cries out for a settlement. It didn't happen during four years of the Clinton administration nor in eight years of the Bush administration, and it probably isn't the top priority in the 6-month-old Obama administration. But someday, somehow this lawsuit needs to be settled."

Get the Story:
Opinion: Indian trust case demands settlement (The Billings Gazette 7/28)

D.C. Circuit Decision:
Cobell v. Salazar (July 24, 2009)

Related Stories:
Appeals court calls for Indian trust accounting (7/24)
Cobell optimistic after appeals court arguments (05/12)
Appeals court set to hear Cobell case on Monday (5/8)
Attorney who worked on Cobell case found dead in DC (5/1)
Cobell invites supporters to May 11 hearing in DC (4/28)
Cobell: Obama fails to bring change to Indian trust (03/24)
Cobell hasn't heard from Obama administration (3/23)
Court schedules Cobell historical accounting appeal (3/13)
Cobell frustrated by Salazar's comments on case (3/12)
Salazar vows to resolve Cobell trust fund lawsuit (3/10)
Elouise Cobell: Obama must make trust a top priority (01/09)
Elouise Cobell: Indians still the invisible Americans (12/19)
Obama vows Salazar will fulfill trust responsibilities (12/18)
Cobell seeks speedy appeal in long-running case (12/10)
Appeal granted for Cobell historical accounting (11/21)