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Trust
Washington rally to show support for Cobell case


Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, is planning a big showing in Washington, D.C., next week to show support for the 10-year-old case amid Congressional settlement efforts.

In a display of unity, Cobell will be joined by tribal leaders, individual Indian landowners and other supporters on the day of a major court hearing. Next Tuesday, the D.C. Court of Appeals is hearing the Bush administration's attempt to remove Judge Royce Lamberth from the case and overturn a computer security ruling.

Prior to the start of oral arguments, Cobell, tribal leaders and drummers from the Blackfeet Nation will meet at 8:30am at the federal courthouse near the U.S. Capitol. The hearing starts at 9:30am and is expected to last at least an hour.

After the hearing, the group will march a short distance to the National Museum of the American Indian. Tex Hall, the most recent president of the National Congress of American Indians; Jim Gray, the chief of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma; Mary Johnson, a Navajo landowner from Utah and others are scheduled to speak.

The gathering comes two weeks after the most recent Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on legislation to settle the Cobell lawsuit, filed in June 1996. Tribal leaders and groups representing Indian landowners want to show Congress they stand united, particularly in light of a recent news article that incorrectly indicated some disagreement on the scope of the matter.

It was last June when Cobell and a number of inter-tribal organizations like the Inter-Tribal Trust Fund Monitoring Association and the Indian Land Working Group came together on 50 principles to settle the case and reform the Indian trust system. The ILWG, who was represented by Austin Nunez at the Senate hearing on March 28, continues to agree with the principles, officials of the group said this week.

The bill, S.1349 and its companion H.R.4322 in the House, would provide a dollar amount to resolve the Cobell case. Although a figure hasn't been reached, independent experts told a joint Senate-House hearing on March 1 that it should be in the billions.

At that hearing, some experts said the settlement should address not just the trust fund mismanagement aspect of Cobell but resource mismanagement claims. Hall and Gray were asked their views on the issue on March 28, with both indicating individual landowners need to be given more information about their assets before resource claims are settled.

"I'm kind of hesitant to include mismanagement of resources because that's a whole other issue that would take an extensive time to research and to provide an answer," Hall said, indicating action on the bill could be delayed if the issue is considered. Gray provided a similar response.

Nunez was quoted in a news story as saying he disagreed with Hall and Gray but he was not quoted correctly. "I would just agree with Mr. Hall and Mr. Gray in that it is an item that needs to be addressed at a later date," he told the committee. The article had him saying the word "disagree" instead of the phrase "just agree."

Next Tuesday's court hearing is before Judge David S. Tatel, a Clinton nominee; Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a Bush II nominee who joined the court last June; and Senior Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan appointee. It takes place in Courtroom 20 on the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse at 333 Constitution Ave NW, the same building as the federal district courthouse.

The appellate court's web page can be accessed at http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/internet.nsf. The district court web site is http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov.

Indian Trust Reform Act:
S.1439 | H.R.4322

Relevant Documents:
Trust Reform and Cobell Settlement Workgroup Principles for Legislation (June 2005)

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians - http://www.ncai.org
Intertribal Trust Fund Monitoring Association - http://www.itmatrustfunds.org
Indian Land Working Group - http://www.ilwg.net
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Senate Indian Affairs Committee - http://indian.senate.gov