Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Opinion: Cobell settlement closes an unsavory chapter in history




"When federal District Judge Thomas F. Hogan approved a $3.4 billion settlement with several hundred thousand Native American plaintiffs last month, it was the largest court-ordered payout in the history of the United States government.

The restitution finally closes an unsavory chapter in American history that began more than a century ago, when Congress passed the Dawes Act and threw open Indian Country to settlement by whites. The law not only robbed all the tribes that had treaties with the government –– treaties that involved roughly 120 million acres of their ancestral homelands –– it also turned over the management of any Indian-owned mineral royalties to the Department of the Interior.

Courts were soon picking apart the legality of Dawes, but the flood of homesteaders made it impractical to return all of that stolen land to the Indians. As the years passed, Indian Country turned out to be much more than land for homesteads; it held a treasure chest of gold, silver, uranium, copper, zinc, cadmium, virgin timber, pure water, coal, gas and oil. Though the accounts held in trust for Indian people at the Interior Department should have been swelling with royalties, somehow they never were. Time and again, the evidence presented in the 15-year-old legal marathon known simply as Cobell — the case that was just settled recently — revealed that asking the Interior Department to make the captains of American industry play fair was like turning Fort Knox over to a gang of safecrackers."

Get the Story:
Paul VanDevelder: Justice delayed but finally delivered (The Frisco Summit Daily 7/15)

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