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Cobell | Opinion | Trust
Editorial: No justice in $7B offer to settle Cobell


"Questioning the substance of the Indian trust funds lawsuit is the new game in town, one that exhibits the depths to which the Bush administration has ventured in its systematic denial of its responsibilities to tribes and individuals. Since all parties, and those in Indian country following the case, have now grown comfortable negotiating a settlement in recent years, observers are now witnessing the Interior Department's newest and most desperate strategy: deny and desert. Strategy has not quite been the strength of this administration; there is no coherent position on litigation or settlement coming from the federal government, and there is certainly no acknowledgement of its gross neglect of the fiduciary obligations to Indian tribes and people.

With the Kempthorne-Gonzales proposal of a $7 billion 'investment in Indian country' on the table as a resolution to Cobell v. Kempthorne, a new perception campaign is sweeping through Washington with all the credibility of a presidential press conference. Embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified two years ago that the government's ''potential exposure in these [tribal trust fund] cases is more than $200 billion.'' Excuse the Cobell team for taking this latest offer of $7 billion as an insult. Interior, having survived the initial backlash from Indian country over its proposal, is now talking ''no case'' and finding some support for the cause. The dilemma, devised by Interior itself, is that it has called its own bluff and now seeks to settle a case it also says has no merit.

At the March 29 Senate hearing, Gonzales was not even present to testify about his previous remarks. On hand was Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who continued his crusade against the trust fund lawsuit, citing a diversion of attention away from other Indian programs threatened by the continuation of Cobell. Dicks, a longtime member of Congress who has championed many causes for Native peoples in Washington and elsewhere, must be feeling a bit like an unwitting pawn of people who do not have the Indian interests as their first concern. He referred to Interior Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason's assertion that few instances of mismanagement in the Indian trust accounts had turned up during investigation. Dicks probably did not intend to spotlight Interior's dilemma, but he asked the awkward question: 'Why are we considering paying the tribes $7 billion if that's the case?'"

Get the Story:
Editorial: Feds' $7 billion suggestion not justice (Indian Country Today 4/5)

Settlement Letter:
Kempthorne-Gonzales to SCIA (March 1, 2007)

Relevant Documents:
Alberto Gonzales Testimony (March 1, 2005) | SCIA Views and Estimates (March 1, 2007)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm

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