December 08, 2009

Why the Cobell plaintiffs settled

After A History Of Mistrust, $3.4B For Indians

By Liz HalloranIn 2004, some estimates put the royalties owed at more than $137 billion. If it were only up to her, Cobell said Tuesday, she would have fought on for another 100 years to right the royalties wrong.

But other Indian leaders expressed relief at the long-sought settlement—and not just because the Obama White House had moved to devote money and effort to resolve the groundbreaking struggle.

The cost to the government to defend Cobell's class-action suit, coupled with the major issues it was set to resolve, had essentially brought to a halt government action on a host of other urgent issues in tribal communities—from law enforcement and water rights to health care and education.

Many tribal leaders and their legal representatives, stymied for years in their efforts to move other issues forward, had agitated for a settlement much earlier.

"The lawsuit created paralysis within the federal government's relationship with tribes in many areas," says Henry M. Buffalo Jr., a St. Paul lawyer representing Indian interests and member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.

"For many years, tribal leaders have been saying to the Cobell plaintiffs, 'You've got to get this settled,'" Buffalo says. "The [royalty] amounts are important, but from an operational standpoint, we needed to get it behind us."
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Obama to Settle Indian Trust Lawsuit.

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