The House voted 398-5 on Wednesday to pass H.Res.668, a bill that helps the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma resolve a trust fund dispute.
In 2002, the tribe filed a lawsuit that accused the federal government of mismanaging its trust funds and trust assets. A settlement in 2004 required the Interior Department to prepare historical accounting statements for the tribe and some of its members.
The process was completed in 2010 but instead of working towards a settlement the tribe said the Justice Department recommended litigation.
The passage of time, however, will most likely hurt the tribe so the bill ensures the U.S. Court of Federal Claims will be able to consider the dispute.
“In order to close the books on this chapter in Quapaw history, our tribe and its members need to receive a full and complete accounting for federal mismanagement, and these claims need to be fairly and justly resolved," Chairman John Berrey said in a press release.
Even after the Court of Federal Claims considers the dispute, Congress would still need to take action to implement a potential settlement. H.R.5862, for example, would appropriate a lump-sum payment to the tribe based on the court's report of the situation.
"The government's foot-dragging necessitates our passage of House Resolution 668 today," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) noted on the House floor yesterday. "The bill doesn't guarantee a desired outcome; it only allows the Quapaw a chance to go before the federal court of claims and make their best case."
So far, the Obama administration has reached settlements with more than 70 tribes that filed trust mismanagement lawsuits. It's not clear why the Quapaws weren't included but the tribe and its members have been in an adversarial position with the federal government in the Cobell trust fund lawsuit and with another lawsuit that was filed in 2011.
According to yesterday's roll call, four Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill.
The holdouts included Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committe, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), the top Democrat on the committee.
H.Res.668 was referred to the committee but it never got a hearing. Neither Hastings nor Markey were on the floor to explain their opposition yesterday.
Quapaw-DOI Settlement (December 2003)
Quapaw Tribe seeks help from Congress in settling trust lawsuit (6/1)