Cobell, Native Leaders Reject Bush Proposal, Seek Resolution From Congress

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Elouise Cobell and two other Native American leaders today urged the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to reject a Bush administration proposal to resolve a number of Indian disputes. Some of these disputes have little to do with the long-running lawsuit over the government’s admitted mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust, according to IndianTrust.com. The story was covered in Mother Jones’ “Accounting Coup.”

Calling the administration’s proposal “a slap in the face of every Indian Trust beneficiary,” Cobell outline an alternative course that could lead to settlement of the class-action lawsuit she and other Native Americans filed 11 years ago. She also produced a real-life example of the harm the trust problems continue to create for Native Americans–James Kennerly Jr., a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, should be a millionaire. But because the government lost records of the oil leases on his father’s lands, Kennerly has been forced into a life of poverty, receiving only $70 a month from lands that continue to pump oil, and that once paid more than $1,000 a month, according an Interior report. What happened? Interior officials can’t say. Lease records for the lands have disappeared.

Cobell was joined in her testimony by John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund of Boulder, Colo., and William Martin, vice chairman of the InterTribal Monitoring Association of Albuquerque, N.M. Both denounced the government’s efforts to lump settlement of the Cobell case with the settlement of more than 100 separate lawsuits that tribes have filed over the government’s mismanagement of their tribal trust accounts.

Committee Chairman Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D, agreed that the government was reaching too far with that proposal. He promised to continue to press efforts for a resolution of the Cobell lawsuit, which affects about 500,000 Indian Trust beneficiaries. Cobell called the $7 billion the administration proposed to settle her lawsuit along with those of the tribes and other issues “an insult, plain and simple.” Just last year the Indian Affairs Committee released a proposal that would have called for an $8 billion settlement of the Cobell case alone.–Julia Whitty

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