Official clarifies that NCAI 'firmly supports' Cobell settlement
The National Congress of American Indians "firmly supports" a settlement to the Indian trust fund lawsuit, the group's executive director said on Native America Calling today.

NCAI has passed resolutions that call for a settlement to the long-running case, Jackie Johnson-Pata said. A recent letter that was sent to members of Congress about a proposed amendment was not meant to "derail" the $3.4 billion deal, she said.

"We felt it was important to put some balanced comments ... but not take a position in support of them or, quite frankly, against them either," Johnson-Pata said of the proposed changes. "We were hoping to be very careful on how we drafted this letter ... so it wouldn't get misinterpreted."

"Well, it didn't work," responded NAC host Harlan McKosato.

"It didn't work," Johnson-Pata acknowledged. "So I'm here to clarify that NCAI firmly supports a settlement."

The letter was written by NCAI President Jefferson Keel. He said tribal leaders might consider a resolution that addresses the terms of the settlement at their mid-year conference in Rapid City, South Dakota, next week.

But Johnson-Pata said the letter should not be considered as one in support of an amendment proposed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In particular, she noted that capping attorneys' fees -- one of Barrasso's main concerns -- might not be a good idea.

"We want to be able to make sure that we're not creating some sort of cap for Indian Country that isn't justified or [isn't] at par with other minority lawsuits," Johnson-Pata said.

Johnson-Pata's comments indicated that NCAI's biggest issue stems from the land consolidation portion of the settlement. It calls for the Interior Department to spend $2 billion to buy fractionated interest from willing individual Indians.

Barrasso's amendment requires the department to consult tribes about the program, something which the Obama administration has promised to do.

American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act:
Press Release: Baucus, Levin To Release Joint Legislation To Create Jobs, Extend Tax Cuts for Families and Businesses, Support Americans Looking for Work | Background and More Information

Cobell Settlement Documents:
Agreement | Press Release | Q&A | Audio

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