Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | National

Native Sun News: Cobell checks could be delayed to December

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey , Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Indian beneficiaries demand release of Cobell settlement funds at a protest in Oklahoma. Photo from Katherine Ware-Perosi / Change.Org

Cobell debacle continues
Thousands voice concerns
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

RAPID CITY — The seemingly endless wait for the release of the second Cobell payments to tribal beneficiaries seems to be getting longer as the courts sort through appeals and lawyers for the plaintiffs scramble to provide answers for the delay.

In a response to the inquiry of a Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal member, Joe Burns, a Paralegal for Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, said: “Our current expectation is that the Trust Administration Class payments will be sent sometime between June and December of this year, after final court approval of those payments.”

Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP is the firm under which Keith Harper is employed. Harper represented the plaintiff class of 500,000 individual Indians and continues to serve as class counsel in the Cobell case. The case was brought against the Federal government for the historic mismanagement of tribally owned IIM accounts overseen by the federal government.

The case was settled for $3.4 billion an amount that many in Indian Country felt was drastically low. Since then one payment has been made from the settlement to those who had money in their individual IIM accounts prior to a date specified in the settlement. The second payment meant to be paid out to those specified in the Trust Administration class however has been put on hold while the legal process plays itself out according to David Smith and Bill Dorris of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

“Unlike the Historical Accounting Class payments, under the terms of the Settlement Agreement as approved by Congress and the Courts, the Trust Administration payments could not be distributed immediately after the expiration of the appeals. Instead, these payments can be made only after all Trust Administration Class members have been identified. This was due to the fact that, in many cases, the Department of Interior had no record of trust beneficiaries on its electronic systems, requiring they self-identify,” they said in letter to plaintiffs in the case. “Therefore, in order to make sure that everyone who was eligible had an opportunity to participate in the settlement, the Settlement Agreement provided additional procedures for identifying Trust Administration Class members. These procedures included a Supplementary Notice to Trust Administration Class members that commenced shortly after the appeals expired, along with a claim filing and review process.”

According to the law firm the search to find class members with a classification of “whereabouts unknown” will not delay the payments. They did however say that the appeals by those who feel they should also be included in the Trust Administration Class need to be sorted out prior to the distribution of this part of the settlement.

“The search to locate those class members who are classified as “whereabouts unknown” will not delay the Trust Administration Class payments. The Settlement Agreement provides that the Trust Administration Class payments may not be made until all Trust Administration Class members are identified. Those considered “whereabouts unknown” have been identified as Class Members; they simply have not been located at this point,” said Burns.

Tim Giago, publisher of Native Sun News said, “That is such a bunch of baloney. More than one year ago we told them we would publish the names of all the people they couldn’t find if they would send it to us and they refused. The entire Cobell Settlement has been a bumbling fiasco from day one.”

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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