Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National

Secretary Salazar anticipates Cobell payments by end of year






Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (r) and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn (l) discuss Indian issues prior to their speeches at the National Congress of American Indians 69th annual convention in Sacramento, California. October 22, 2012. Photo © Indianz.Com

Payments from the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement could go out by the end of the year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in an interview on Monday.

Four Indian beneficiaries are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the settlement. But Salazar expected their petitions for certiorari to be rejected.

"We'll wait for the Supreme Court denial of cert, which we expect, and we'll be able to deploy that program fully by the end of the year," Salazar said before his address at the National Congress of American Indian 69th annual conference in Sacramento, California.

One petition, filed by Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate member Kimberly Craven, is up for consideration this Friday, according to Docket No. 12-134. The justices could deny it outright or they might wait to consider it along with a petition filed by three other beneficiaries.

The second petition is not yet up for consideration, according to Docket No. 12-355.

If both petitions are rejected, as Salazar expects, the Interior Department will be able to distribute $1.412 billion in payments to Indian beneficiaries. Most will receive $1,800, but many could see even more, depending on the type of activity in their trust account.

Denial of cert also means the department can move forward with a $1.9 billion program to consolidate fractionated interests. Indian landowners will be paid, on a voluntary basis, for their small land holdings, which will then be returned to tribal governments.

"We're going to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as the Supreme Court makes a decision," Salazar said.

In addition to the cash component, the settlement created the National Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform to make recommendations for trust reform efforts. The panel has been meeting since March.

"We wanted to make sure we had Indian Country very involved with us as we move forward," Salazar said.

Under the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians oversees trust reform at the department. But the Obama administration has left the post vacant since January 2009.

"The Office of Special Trustee was supposed to be temporary and not forever," Salazar noted.

In August, President Barack Obama nominated Vincent Logan, a member of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, to serve as Special Trustee. The position requires Senate confirmation.

Salazar said he will look to Kevin Washburn, the new leader of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to help guide trust reform efforts. Tribal leaders have complained about budget cuts to the BIA during the Bush administration, when the OST's size and scope were dramatically increased.

"This administration is getting close to the finish line with the Cobell settlement," Washburn said in an interview yesterday.

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Keith Harper: Just a few truths about Obama, Cobell and me (9/12)
Ask Elouise: Lead counsel Dennis Gingold on status of payout (09/11)
Native Sun News: Cobell settlement on hold with more appeals (08/31)
Reply for Kimberly Craven's Cobell appeal due September 21 (08/24)
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