WASHINGTON -- The Court-ordered process of notifying individual Indians of their right to participate in the historic $3.4 billion class action Settlement, Cobell v. Salazar, is underway. The Settlement resolves claims related to Individual Indian Money (or IIM) accounts and land held in trust by the federal government for the benefit of individual Indians.
Class Members all over the country are receiving detailed information about their legal rights and options via U.S. Mail. Information will also be provided through an extensive media campaign, which includes Native America print media, television and radio ads, and online advertising.
On December 21, 2010, U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas F. Hogan granted preliminary approval of the Settlement, setting in motion a process through which hundreds of thousands of individual Indians who have or had government-managed IIM accounts or trust lands may receive some of the $3.4 billion Settlement Fund.
The judge's approval came after Congress passed and the President signed legislation approving the Settlement. Current estimates project that most Class Members will receive about $1,800, with some Class Members receiving much more depending on the level of activity in their IIM accounts.
The $3.4 billion Settlement was reached between the Departments of the Interior and Treasury and the individual Indian plaintiffs in December 2009. The Settlement resolves the government's failure to provide an historical accounting for IIM accounts and also resolves claims that the government mismanaged funds and other trust assets, including royalties owed to individual Indians for oil, gas, grazing, and other leases of individual Indian lands, mostly in the West.
The Settlement provides a $1.5 billion fund to compensate an estimated 500,000 affected individual Indian trust beneficiaries who have or had IIM accounts or own trust land. The Settlement creates two groups of Class Members eligible to receive money from the fund—the Historical Accounting Class and the Trust Administration Class.
The Historical Accounting Class comprises individual Indians who were alive on September 30, 2009, who had an open IIM account anytime between October 25, 1994 and September 30, 2009, and whose account had at least one cash transaction.
The Trust Administration Class comprises individual Indians alive on September 30, 2009, who had an IIM Account at any time from 1985 through September 30, 2009, recorded in currently available electronic data in federal government systems, as well as individual Indians who, as of September 30, 2009, had a recorded or demonstrable interest in land held in trust or restricted status.
The estates of deceased Class Members will also receive a Settlement distribution if the deceased beneficiary's account was open as of September 30, 2009, or their land interest was open in probate as of that date. Other eligibility conditions and requirements for each Class are detailed in the Settlement Agreement.
Under the Settlement Agreement, $1.9 billion will fund a Department of the Interior program to buy fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers to benefit tribal communities and aid in land consolidation. Depending on the level of participation in the land consolidation program, up to $60 million will be set aside to provide scholarships for higher education for American Indian and Alaska Native youth.
Information about the Settlement and legal rights is available to all American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The website www.IndianTrust.com and toll-free number 1-800-961-6109 are available to provide more information about the Settlement and the legal rights of Class Members. Individuals who are unsure whether they are included in the Settlement should visit the website or call the toll-free number for more information.
Class Members who receive a formal notice in the mail about the Settlement and who are currently receiving IIM account statements do not have to do anything to receive payment. Individuals who believe they should be part of the Settlement but do not receive a notice in the mail or are not receiving IIM account statements need to fill out a Claim Form as soon as possible, available at the Indian Trust website or by calling the toll-free number.
Individuals wishing to keep their right to sue the federal government over mismanagement claims covered by the Settlement must exclude themselves from the Settlement by April 20, 2011. Class Members can also submit written comments or objections about any Settlement terms that concern them by April 20, 2011.