Richard Williams: Indian trust and future generations
"The resolution of the Cobell v. Salazar case is far from complete. In August 2008 the federal district court awarded $455.6 million in restitution to the class of American Indians who had Individual Indian Money accounts held in trust and administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, based on a breach of the U.S. government’s trust responsibility to individual Indian trust beneficiaries. The plaintiff is appealing the federal district court’s ruling on the basis of fatal errors of law. A ruling from the federal court of appeals is expected this year.

At the time of the Cobell appeal involving IIM trust accounts, an additional 100 tribal trust account cases were pending in cases spanning the Court of Federal Claims, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and District Courts in Oklahoma.

The amount the courts will award the plaintiffs is conjecture at this point, but money will be awarded. In the Cobell case, funds initially awarded and still at issue are based on the legal principle of restitution in contract law, which attempts to restore a rightful owner to his or her previous state by compensating him or her for loss, damage, or injury.

In addition to the living rightful owners and their descendants, many American Indians passed on before the courts could make a decision without descendants. Because of the BIAs’ mismanagement in accounting, we will never know the full number of people that passed away without descendants, so I estimated a number of 10 percent for these purposes.

When the time comes that Indian country receives payment, what will we do with these awards? I have been talking with many leaders in Indian country about pooling 10 percent of these funds that would have gone to Indians who died without descendants as an opportunity to return to our traditional teachings."

Get the Story:
Richard B. Williams: Indian trust cases offer hope for seven generations (Indian Country Today 5/8)