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Cobell responds to questions about trust fund settlement

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, will be answering questions about the proposed settlement to the case. Cobell is a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.

This is the seventh letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country to answer questions you have asked me about settlement of the Cobell class action lawsuit.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website:

We also have a "frequently asked questions" section to answer the most common questions we've received: I can’t answer every question, but I will try to answer as many as I can every week.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether someone is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see prior Ask Elouise letters), but I also understand many of you have unique or unusual circumstances which make it unclear whether you are included. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter

I’ve heard that the government and the tribes will receive money under the settlement, is this true?
No. I too have heard the rumors that tribes or the government will receive money under this settlement agreement. I can assure you that those rumors are false. Tribes are not members of this class. Only individual Indians are members of the class. Moreover, tribes haven’t provided one penny in support of this case. And, equally importantly, they will have no role with the administration of the scholarship fund. The government will not receive any money under this settlement agreement. However, I should point out that the government may use up to 15% of the $2 billion Land Consolidation fund to pay for its expenses in managing the program. This means that the government may use up to $300 million of the $2 billion to administer the Land Consolidation fund.

What is the status of the settlement?
We still await Congressional approval. The settlement requires legislation from Congress to proceed to a fairness hearing before the district court. Unfortunately, it appears increasingly likely that the April 16, 2010 deadline will also pass without the enactment of ratifying legislation authorizing. I hold out some hope that Congress will pass legislation before April 16, 2010, but grow increasingly skeptical. If legislation is not passed before the deadline, I will consult with our attorneys about our options.

My mother passed away before September 30, 2009, but her estate has not been through probate, can she still participate in the settlement?
Yes. As a general matter, you must be living on September 30, 2009 in order to be included in the classes settled by this agreement. That means that the claims of deceased beneficiaries are not compromised by this settlement. Nonetheless, the settlement agreement provides that if your ancestor’s estate is suspended in probate as of September 30, 2009, then his or her IIM account would receive the proceeds from this settlement. This exception is included in the agreement because of the probate backlog at Interior.

I read your last Ask Elouise letter that “The Osage Tribe intervened in the Cobell litigation and asked the Court to exclude many of its members from the litigation” and I understand that the Osage tribe now disputes that intervention. What is the real deal?
The truth is that the Osage tribe intervened in the Cobell case, asserting that: “At all times before the distribution [of Osage royalties], the funds are held on behalf of the Osage tribe. Statute specifies that royalties are collected for the tribe, the royalties are owned by the tribe . . . .” However, both the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress recognize that the royalties are property of individual Osage Indians. In plain English, the Osage tribe and its lawyers now insist – after 14 years of Cobell litigation – that proceeds of the mineral estate have become property of the Osage tribe until and unless they are distributed to individual Osage trust beneficiaries. As a result, many individual Indian Osage trust beneficiaries are excluded from the Cobell class and may not participate in the settlement.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Telephone: 1-800-961-6109

If you have a question, send an e-mail to:

Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Relevant Documents:
Agreement | Press Release | Q&A | Audio

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