Village Earth & ILTF helps Native Americans cut through the Red Tape!

Today, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation (ILTF) released their latest newsletter themed “Cutting Through the Red Tape.” The newsletter, developed with support from Village Earth, addresses the unique challenges involved in the managment of Indian trust land and assets. It includes a collection of the most common forms used by federal agencies and Indian people and provides tips for how to read and process these forms successfully. The newsletter pulls together a lot of lessons learned by Village Earth and the ILTF through its work with Indian landowners and tribes as they attempt to gain greater access to and control of their lands.

Why Is there so much Red Tape for Indian Land?

Most Americans own property in fee simple, which means they hold title to the property and can make decisions about use and sell the land without government oversight. This is not true for Indian land, or trust land. Instead, the U.S. federal government holds the underlying title to all Indian trust land and federal agencies must process and approve all trust land-related transactions that occur. Every lease, sale, gift deed, or transfer (to name a few) must be processed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and approved by the secretary of the interior. The maze-like bureaucratic processes surrounding each transaction adds considerable time and complexity to the management of Indian lands which are already challenged by such issues as fractionated ownership and checkerboarding.

Topics include:

  • Individual Trust Interest Report
  • Individual Indian Monies Statement of Account
  • List of Real Property Assets
  • IIM Account Preferences and Change of Address
  • Appraisals
  • Sale of Indian Land
  • Land Exchange and Consolidation
  • Leasing Indian Land
  • Right of Way
  • Trust-to-Fee Transfer
  • Fee-to-Trust Transfer
  • Writing a Will
  • Gift Deed

In addition to the newsletter, the ILTF has developed an online resource on their website at http://www.iltf.org/resources/cutting-through-red-tape

Why Your Tribe Should Challenge the Federal Census

Now that the Federal Government has published its final rule November 22, 2016 for the Indian Housing Block Grant, Tribes across the country are bracing for the impact that low figures could have on their State and Federal Funding. A short list of programs that use formulas based on the Federal Census include: The Indian Housing Block Grant, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, The Child Care and Development Fund, Social Services Block Grant, Administration on Aging, Special Programs for the Aging, Title III, Part C, Nutrition, Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, Community Services Block Grant, funding for local schools, road construction and repair.

It is widely understood that there is a selection bias in the Federal Census that tends to under-count minorities and over-count the wealthy. According to a 2010 Report from Government Accountability Office (GAO):

Minorities, renters, and children, for example, are more likely to be undercounted by the census while more affluent groups, such as people with vacation homes, are more likely to be enumerated more than once. As census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, redraw congressional districts, and allocate billions of dollars in federal assistance to states and local governments, improving coverage and reducing the differential undercount are critical.

This is especially true for hard to count populations like Native Americans who often live in areas that can lack basic infrastructure such as marked roads, street names and addresses, or even telephones.

This dilemma is illustrated by two successful Census challenges Village Earth participated in on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota. In the case of Pine Ridge, the 2000 Federal Census calculated the American Indian Alaskan Native (AIAN) population to be 15,861. Tribal official knew this figure could not be accurate. Using survey data from Dr. Kathleen Pickering at Colorado State University and GIS mapping support from Village Earth, we calculated the population to be 28,787 and used our data to challenge the data HUD used in the formula for the Indian Housing Block Grant for Pine Ridge. Our challenge was accepted by HUD and resulted in the following.

  • 81% increase in the HUD recognized population (from 15,861 to 28,787)‏
  • 31% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 30% median family income.
  • 62% increase in the number of AIAN households between 30% and 50% median family income.
  • 137% increase with more than 1 person per room or without kitchen or plumbing.
  • $1, 292,000 increase in Pine Ridge’s IHBG Allocation starting in 2006

Unfortunately HUD had been using the 2000 numbers of almost 5 years before we provided them with the more accurate data. That translates to nearly $6,460,000 in funding that should have gone to Pine Ridge to address the longstanding shortage of quality-affordable housing, not to mention all the other programs that were shorted by being undercounted.

A year later, based on our success at Pine Ridge, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe asked for assistance. While the outcomes were not as dramatic as for Pine Ridge, it was still significant. Our data, which again was accepted by HUD, meant the following for Rosebud.

  • 230% increase in the number of AIAN households with household expenses greater than 50% of income.
  • 42% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 30% median family income.
  • 34% increase in the number of AIAN households with less than 80% of median family income.
  • $713,150 increase in IHBG Allocation in 2007

For the Rosebud Reservation, this means the Tribe was shorted over $4,000,000 for housing alone during the 6 years that HUD was using the low 2000 Federal Census numbers.

Village Earth has supported Census Challenges on the following Reservations

  • Red Lake, MN
  • Fort Berthold, ND
  • Turtle Mountain, ND
  • Cheyenne River, SD
  • Pine Ridge, SD
  • Lower Brule, SD

For more information about challenging the Federal Census, contact David Bartecchi at Village Earth by email at [email protected].

Workshop On Youth Self-Injury Prevention

One of the 7 Lakota values is to “Ihakta” one another, to look out for each other or not to leave one another behind. Many of our children and youth are being “left behind” and are cutting themselves and using self-injury as a way to cope. what is “self-injury’, what does it look like, how do we as helpers, family and community respond to this?

CONFIRMED PRESENTERS:

Richard Two Dogs (Lakota Traditional Healer), Richard Laughter (MD, Psychiatrist), Joseph Stone (Psychologist), Stanley R. Holder Sr. (Psychologist)

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:

Tribal Leadership, Parents, Youth Counselors, Social Workers, Youth Workers, Advocates, Juvenile Judges, Clergy, Teachers, Educators, and Community Members.

SPONSORS

Wakanyeja Pawicayapi (The Children First), Knife Chief Buffalo Nation, Village Earth

FLYER

Click here to download PDF Flyer

LIMITED CONFERENCE FEE SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE FOR PARENTS AND YOUTH PARTICIPANTS.

CONFERENCE FEE: $400.00

CONFERENCE WEBSITE:

www.woasniya.com

CONTACT:

LINDA TWO BULLS at [email protected]

A message from Wakanyeja Pawicayapi Inc. – Porcupine, SD

As a supporter of grassroots organizations on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Village Earth would like to highlight the work of Wakanyeja Pawicayapi, Inc. based out of the village of Porcupine. Wakanyeja Means Children. Wakanyeja has much deeper meaning; “Wakan” is sacred and “yeja” is translated to mean “a gift”  Pawicayapi: to put them first. We believe that the ‘Sacred Gift’ is at the center of the sacred hoop of life, and they must be protected and nurtured. They are our future and the most fragile. Wakanyeja Pawicayapi, Inc. (Children First) comes from the rebirth of the Lakota way of life and laws through education, healing, and collaboration. This holiday season, please consider donating directly to Wakanyeja Pawicayapi by going to their website at http://www.wakanyeja.org/
Please read the appeal below from Taoiye Wakan Win, S. Ramona White Plume, Executive Director, Wakanyeja Pawicayapi, Inc.

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuHpfPsARuA]

A message from Wakanyeja Pawicayapi Inc

As a Lakota culturally appropriate mental health resource for children/youth and families on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation since 1999, we do not receive federal funds for the services we provide. These services include primarily child/youth and family healing in the areas of trauma, suicide prevention, physical abuse and sexual abuse.
We respectfully ask for your support, both financially and spiritually. Your financial support will help us to purchase wood for the purification lodge ceremonies, purchase food to serve children/youth and families after the ceremonies and pay for general operating costs.

Your spiritual support in the form of appeals to the Creator on behalf of children/youth and families who continue to suffer from intergenerational grief, loss and trauma will strengthen the work that we do and will assist in the ongoing battle for our Lakota way of life and the future of our children and grandchildren. For more information contact Taoiye Wakan Win, S. Ramona White Plume, Executive Director, Wakanyeja Pawicayapi, Inc., P.O. Box 100, Porcupine, SD 57772, [email protected], 605-455-1226. Wopila (thank you).

Range Units and the History of Leasing Lands on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Village Earth – Fort Collins, Co 

Today, nearly 60% of the Pine Ridge Reservation is being leased out by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), often times to non-tribal members. Despite the fact that lands allotted to Lakotas have been in the federal leasing system for several generations, over 70% of families on the reservation would like to live on and utilize their allotted lands. According to 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture for American Indian Reservations, the market value of agriculture commodities produced on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2007 totaled $54,541,000. Yet, less than 1/3 ($17,835,000) of that income went to Native American producers.

The reason so few Lakota’s are utilizing Reservation lands today can be traced back to a history of discriminatory policies enacted by Congress just a few years after the signing of the General Allotment Act that opened up Reservation lands to non-Native producers. These policies affected Native Americans nationwide. According to Village Earth’s study of the USDA data, in total numbers, Native Americans represent only 1.6% of the farmers and ranchers operating on Reservation lands. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease Indian lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land.” Clearly designed to alienate lands from Native Americans, this act dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country. For the Pine Ridge Reservation the practice was so widespread, that in a 1915 Government report, it was noted that over 56% of the adult males on the reservation were considered incapable of managing their lands and thus they were forcefully leased out. In 1920 the Government Superintendent for Pine Ridge wrote, “It has been my policy to insist upon the utilization of all these lands and the grass growing upon it and this has restricted members of the tribe owning stock to their own allotments, and such land adjoining that they have leased.” Not only were a great number of Native Americans denied the ability to utilize their allotted lands, many did not even receive the lease income collected by the Federal Government. Today, it is estimated that Native Americans are owed upwards of 47 billion dollars by the Federal Government for 120 years of oil, timber, agriculture, grazing and mining leases (See Cobell vs. Salazar).

According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the over 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.

Senate holds up Cobell Settlement Once Again!

Senate will approve 700 Billion to Wall Street in a matter of weeks but when it comes to settling-up with Native Americans for less than 7% of the money owed to them for oil, gas, timber and grazing leases, try 14 years.

READ BELOW

Statement by Elouise Cobell
Lead Plaintiff
Cobell vs Salazar
BROWNING, Mont., July 23 — On July 1, 2010, the House of Representatives passed HR4899 – Disaster/War Supplemental Appropriations. It included legislation to approve the Cobell v. Salazar individual Indian trust settlement.  Late last night, however, the Senate stripped from HR 4899 all domestic spending provisions, including our settlement legislation, notwithstanding that the domestic spending provisions are fully paid for.  The stripped version of the bill returns to the House for further consideration.  This is the second time in two months that the Senate has failed to act on settlement legislation although it is fully paid-for and had been expected to pass if put to a vote.
As a result of Senate action, legislative approval of our settlement, once again, is in the capable hands of House leadership, which steadfastly has supported us since settlement with the government was reached on December 7, 2009.   We have great confidence in Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer and believe that they will continue to ensure that 500,000 individual Indians finally are provided justice that is long overdue.  We are depending on them.

USDA Misrepresents Situation of Native American Farmers

On the eve of important White House meeting with Tribal Leaders, USDA press release celebrates increase in Native American Farmers but omits information provided in an earlier report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers as erroneous.

For Immediate Release

Village Earth – Nov. 4, 2009 – Today, the USDA issued a press release celebrating the increase in Native American Farmers and Ranchers since their 2002 Census of Agriculture. This comes on the eve an important and highly publicized meeting between the White House and Tribal representatives from across the country.

“In celebration of American Indian Heritage Month the U.S. Department of Agriculture today reported that there are nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States. This represents an 88-percent increase over the number of American Indian farmers USDA counted in 2002.” 

Just a week earlier, Village Earth issued a similiar release but provided greater context for the extreme racial disparity that exists in agricultural production on most Native American Reservations. According to Village Earth, “this most recent report by the USDA is a gross misrepresentation of the data, suggesting that the increase is due to greater inclusion and outreach when in fact it is the result of the USDA expanding the sampling area of the Census from Reservations in just three States to Reservations nationwide.” Today’s press release omits information, provided in an earlier USDA report that explained the dramatic increase in the numbers.

“Part of the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of American Indian farmers is a change in the way the 2007 Census of Agriculture counted farm operators on reservations in the Southwestern United States. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducted a pilot program to count American Indian operators on reservations in three states — North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana — rather than simply counting a single reservation as a single farm operation. In 2007, the pilot program was extended throughout the United States. The majority of the increase in the number of American Indian operators occurred in just two states: Arizona and New Mexico, where the count increased from 694 in 2002 to 12,929 in 2007.” 

Today’s press release also failed to create a context for the larger picture of the racial disparity in agriculture that exists on most Native American Reservations today. While the USDA is correct to report that there are “nearly 80,000 American Indian operators on 61,472 farms and ranches across the United States,” that number only represent 1.6% of the total farmers and ranchers operating on Native American Reservation today, illustrating that non-native producers dominate on most Native American Reservations. In terms of income, the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

As reported earlier by Village Earth, the unequal land-use patterns seen on Native American Reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening them up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result of this complexity, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

USDA Census Reveals Non-Native Producers Dominate on Most Native American Reservations

By David Bartecchi and Courtney Hunter
Fort Collins, CO (Village Earth) 10/23/09 — Recently released 2007 Agricultural data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for Native American Reservations reveal that non-native agricultural producers dominate on most Native American Reservations in the United States. This is according to a study conducted by Village Earth, a Fort Collins based not-for-profit organization that works on indigenous land use issues on Native American Reservations in the United States and around the world. According to Village Earth’s study of the USDA data, in total numbers, Native Americans represent only 1.6% of the farmers and ranchers operating on Reservation lands. Today, for most Native American Reservations in the United States, more than two-thirds of the farms and ranches are controlled by non-natives. As might be expected, this disparity in land use has had a dramatic impact on the ability of Native Americans to fully benefit from their natural resources. Statistics on income reveal that the total value of agricultural commodities produced on Native American Reservations in 2007 totaled over $2.1 Billion dollars, yet, only 16% of that income went to Native American farmers and ranchers.

The USDA has conducted its quinquennial Census of Agriculture for every county in the United States since 1840 but it was not until 2007 when it began collecting this agricultural data for Native American Reservations. While Village Earth recognizes that this data-set is not complete, representing only 73 of the 388 Native American Reservations in the U.S., the results are consistent with data collected by a study from Colorado State University and with its experience working with Native producers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in their efforts to utilize their own lands.

The unequal land-use patterns seen on reservations today is a direct outcome of discriminatory lending practices, land fractionation and specifically, Federal policies over the last century that have excluded native land owners from the ability to utilize their lands while at the same time opening it up to non-native farmers and ranchers. Discriminatory lending practices, as argued in court cases such as the pending Keepseagle vs. Vilsack, claim that Native Americans have been denied roughly 3 billion in credit.  Another significant obstacle is the high degree of fractionation of Reservation lands caused by the General Allotment Act (GAA) of 1887. Over a century of unplanned inheritance under the GAA has created a situation where reservation lands have become severely fractionated. Today, for a Native land owner to consolidate and utilize his or her allotted lands they may have to get the signed approval of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate land owners. As a result, most Indian land owners have few options besides leasing their lands out as part of the Federal Government’s leasing program. Additionally, historical and racially-based policies by the Federal government have been designed to exclude Native American farmers and ranchers from utilizing their own lands, opening them up to non-natives for a fraction of their far market value.

The leasing of Indian Lands by the Federal Government dates back the the the Act of February 28, 1891 which amended the General Allotment Act to give the Secretary of the Interior the power to determine whether an Indian allottee had the “mental or physically qualifications” to enable him to cultivate his allotment. In such cases, the Superintendent was authorized to lease Indian lands to non-tribal members. In 1894, the annual Indian Appropriation Act increased the agricultural lease term to 5 years, 10 years for business and mining leases, and permitted forced leases for allottees who “suffered” from “inability to work their land.” Clearly designed to alienate lands from Native Americans, this act dramatically increased the number of leases issued across the country. For the Pine Ridge Reservation the practice was so widespread, that in a 1915 Government report, it was noted that over 56% of the adult males on the reservation were considered incapable of managing their lands and thus they were forcefully leased out. In 1920 the Government Superintendent for Pine Ridge wrote, “It has been my policy to insist upon the utilization of all these lands and the grass growing upon it and this has restricted members of the tribe owning stock to their own allotments, and such land adjoining that they have leased.” Not only were a great number of Native Americans denied the ability to utilize their allotted lands, many did not even receive the lease income collected by the Federal Government. Today, it is estimated that Native Americans are owed upwards of 47 billion dollars by the Federal Government for 120 years of oil, timber, agriculture, grazing and mining leases (See Cobell vs. Salazar).

According to Village Earth, the disparity in land use on Native American Reservations will only worsen with each new generation until Native Americans are given a fair chance at accessing the credit and other forms assistance available to non-natives. Additionally, the Government should honor its obligation as trustee and pay the over 47 billion dollars in revenue it has received for the leasing of Native American lands over the last 120 years. Lastly, the Department of Interior should place special emphasis on repairing the fractionation problem created by the General Allotment Act by providing information and support to individual allottees to consolidate and utilize their lands. In particular, speeding up the appraisal and survey process for which they are responsible.

Indian Trust Lead Plaintiff Expresses Disappointment on the Appeals Court Ruling

From: www.indiantrust.com

WASHINGTON, JULY 24 — Today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the Indian Trust class action lawsuit will prolong what the court has said repeatedly has lasted too long. The case is now in its 14th year.

Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff for the class of 500,000 individual Indians, expressed disappointment in the ruling, commenting that “it is difficult to understand why the court is reluctant to enforce binding trust law and controlling Supreme Court precedent and ignore the government’s mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust.”

For hundreds of thousands of Indians, including children, the elderly, and the infirm who depend upon their trust funds for food, clothing, shelter, and health care, this ruling means that many more years will pass before they can hope to secure trust funds that the government has withheld unconscionably and in breach of trust duties that it has owed for generations.

The appellate court reversed the trial court’s $455.6 million award in restitution, stating that the district court may not relieve the government of an accounting duty as a matter of law. However, at the same time, the court cast aside settled law, reversed its earlier decisions, and decided that the government need only account for funds that it can identify easily, those that the court described as “low hanging fruit.” Moreover, the court has accepted as good enough for government work its systemic trust records destruction and suggested that it would be unfair to force the government to perform and accurate and complete accounting because its historical breaches of trust now make that accounting too expensive to render.

The Cobell plaintiffs will continue to seek justice in this case, no matter how long that will take. Accordingly, further appellate review will proceed in addition to a request for the district court to place the IIM Trust into receivership to ensure that the beneficiaries their assets finally receive the protection they are owed under the law.

For additional information:

Bill McAllister

703-385-3996

202-257-5385 (cell)

INDIANS ASK APPEALS COURT FOR FOR JUSTICE

From: www.indiantrust.com

WASHINGTON, May 11 — A federal appeals court was told today that it should offer 500,000 Native Americans some form of “rough justice” as a result of the federal government’s acknowledged mismanagement of their trust accounts.

Attorney Dennis M. Gingold, who represents the Indians in a 13-year-old class action lawsuit, said justice for the Native American trust account beneficiaries cannot be complete because so many records of what happened to their trust lands and funds are missing.

That means some form of “rough justice” is required, Gingold said, adding that any resolution of the case must be fair.

“If not, we’ll all be here another 13 years,” Gingold told a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Government lawyers said they want the case declared at an end and the Indians given nothing at all. Alisa Klein, an appellate lawyer with the Justice Department’s Civil Division, argued that the Indians are due nothing.

Plaintiffs opposed an llth-hour effort by the Osage Tribe to intervene in the case and take control of its members’ individual trust accounts. Plaintiffs have fully represented the interests of individual Osage tribal members from the outset of the litigation in 1996.

Individual Osage tribal members are clearly part of the lawsuit, because their trust accounts were always classified as the property of individuals and not the tribe, Gingold told the court.

After the hour-long hearing, Lead Plaintiff Elousie Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation from Browning, Mont., said that the government continued to mislead the appeals court about how the trust accounts have been managed. The accounts have never been audited, she noted, pointing out that the lower court had held an accounting remains “impossible.” “I am very optimistic,” she told reporters. “The court asked very good questions.”

As for the idea of “rough justice,” she said: “We all understand what’s going to happen.” She said any sum that is finally approved by the court will be distributed after additional hearings and under court supervision.

The three-judge panel gave no indication when it would rule.

The Indian Trust was established by Congress in 1887. It included millions of acres of valuable lands in the West owned by individual Indians, whom lawmakers believed could not manage those lands. That job was given to the Interior Department, which has repeatedly acknowledged in the lawsuit that it mismanaged the trust accounts.

For additional information:
Bill McAllister (media calls only)
703-385-6996

$455 Million, Adding Insult to Injury

Federal District judge Robertson recently ruled that the U.S. Government owes Native Americans $455 million dollars as “proper repair” for the estimated $47 billion that the Government never paid individual Indians for income generated from over 120 years of managing oil, gas, grazing, timber, and mining leases on their lands. This ruling came after nearly 16 years of litigation in the largest ever class action lawsuit against the federal government – representing some 500,000 individual Indians whose lands were being leased out by the federal government. On Tuesday Eloise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, appeared on Democracy Now! to announce her intent to appeal this decision. In the words of Mrs. Cobell:

“The opinion is both profoundly disappointing and difficult to understand. It disregards unchallenged evidence of record, law of the case, law of the DC Circuit since 1895, and settled law as set forth by the United States Supreme Court. 

Among other things, duties and responsibilities of the US government as Trustee for the Individual Indian Trust are the same as those that apply to private trustees, unless Congress expressly has enacted legislation to the contrary. No such legislation has been enacted.

Accordingly, the unwillingness of the district court to apply trust law is puzzling. So is its unwillingness to hold the government accountable for its egregious breaches of trust. The district court now says that holding the government accountable would be unfair to the government. The complete lack of concern for fairness to victims of 120 years of abuse is utterly incomprehensible to Native People.”

Village Earth is working at “ground-zero” on this issue. While we support Cobell’s efforts to seek justice from the Federal Government and force them to repair this horribly flawed system, we are working to help people reclaim and consolidate their lands from the Federal leasing system giving them an opportunity to bennefit directly from them on their own.

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