Vi Waln: Exclude yourself from the Cobell trust fund settlement

The last day for Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accountholders to exclude themselves from the Cobell settlement is almost here. You have to write a letter stating you are requesting to be excluded from the trust administration class.

The letter must be signed and include your full name, IIM account number, social security number and telephone number. Mail it to: Indian Trust Exclusions, PO Box 9419, Dublin, Ohio 43017-4519. It must be postmarked on or before April 20, 2011.

I have decided to exclude myself from receiving any payments from the trust accounting class of the Cobell settlement. Believe me, if there was a way I could opt out of the historical accounting class portion of this dead end settlement I would do so in a heartbeat. Since I cannot exclude myself from the historical accounting class I am being forced to take a payment I don’t want.

I didn’t give my permission to Elouise Cobell and her team of expensive lawyers to sue the Department of Interior on my behalf. Just because the lawyers said this was the best they could get doesn’t mean I have to settle for it. It is not good enough for me.

I risk being labeled as a sell-out because of the Cobell settlement. I apologize in advance to all my descendants who may judge me as selling out for $1,000. Can someone please tell them I had no say in the matter?

Recently, a Lakota attorney told me it would do no good to not cash the check when I received it. She advised against protesting the payment by destroying the check. She said checks received by IIM accountholders that were not cashed would be voided after a certain amount of time and the money would remain in the government’s hands.

I am going to follow the advice given by the Lakota lawyer. I plan to invest the payment I will receive as an historical accounting class action member to open a savings account. I will also deposit any money I may receive as an heir to any IIM accounts under the Cobell settlement. I may also decide to deposit my annual $83 lease payment into this savings account.

My account might be used to pay for legal fees if I decide to file a lawsuit against the Department of Interior for the mismanagement of my trust resources. I might instead decide to just leave the money for my descendants or I could team up with other IIM Accountholders who will also use their money for legal fees.

A truly fair settlement, in my opinion, would have been at least $100,000 plus interest going back to the Dawes Act along with 160 acres of land to every one of the IIM Accountholders. We are being offered crumbs. Personally, I am offended and I believe every IIM Accountholder should also be offended.

In reality, the only people who will greatly benefit from this lawsuit, according to the notice I received, are the handful of Plaintiffs who originally filed and their attorneys. The lawyers, who probably already have more money than my tribe receives in a fiscal year, stand to become even richer. I believe this settlement is offering to pay us blood money because of all Indian people who were killed over their land or who died desolate after their land was stolen away.

Last week The Lakota Country Times printed the objections of IIM Accountholder Edward C. Valandra. He raised some very important issues surrounding the Cobell settlement. I asked him for permission to print his objections because I wanted you to think about what we have lost over the last 500+ years. I appreciate his willingness to share with us his perspective on the Cobell settlement.

Valandra’s objections “are representative of the unresolved historic claims of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate citizens against the American people, through their government. These claims remain outstanding with respect to the mismanagement of our trust assets and the breach of Americans’ trust responsibilities to Native Peoples.”

I highly doubt that our acceptance of this settlement will make the government become more accountable. In fact, I believe the government will resent us even more because of the Cobell settlement. I doubt that we can ever hold the government accountable for any of our losses through theft and deception. They will not own up to it, ever.

Valandra made this point clear for me when he wrote: “The settlement says that the American people have NO legal responsibilities for these claims and OWES nothing to the Class members. This American position is comparable to Germans saying that they have no legal responsibilities and owe nothing to Jewish people who suffered during The Holocaust…

“Accepting the settlement means individuals—and this would include their descendants—can no longer file any further suits regarding breach of trust. Meanwhile the settlement permits the Americans to avoid any admission of guilt or wrong-doing…

“Since the 1887 Allotment Act, the Americans involved with “managing” our “trust” assets have an undeniable record of theft, lying, deceit, and greed, which has directly caused our impoverishment. Despite American protestations to the contrary, the Allotment Act’s administration did not improve the well-being of the original allottees and their descendants…

“Purchasing fractionated land with settlement funds is the worst kind of fraud. It forces Native peoples to pay for what is theirs already. The colonizers walk away without any accountability for the conditions they created: poverty, land loss, ill health, substandard facilities, substandard education, and so forth.”

Finally, Valandra wrote: “The Agreement is anti-Native sovereignty . . . It is utterly inappropriate for the historic perpetrators of harms to name their own laws as the arbiters and executors of justice and to exclude any role for the sovereign laws and judicial and executive powers of those who suffered the harms.”

Our ancestors tried to look ahead before making their decisions. I am excluding myself from the Cobell settlement on behalf of my descendants. You should too.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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