WASHINGTON -Federal judge Thomas Hogan yesterday approved a $3.4 billion settlement in a class action that alleged U.S. officials mismanaged Indian royalties.
The class-action settlement, the largest ever approved against the U.S. government, generated more than 20 published judicial opinions and numerous appellate-court hearings.
Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell claimed that for more than a century, U.S. officials systematically stole or squandered billions in royalties intended for American Indians in exchange for oil, gas, grazing and other leases.
Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, will receive $2 million, and three other named plaintiffs will receive payments ranging from $150,000 to $200,000 each.
The judge also awarded Cobell’s legal team $99 million, which some criticized as excessive.
Under the settlement, $1.5 billion will go to at least 300,000 Indian account holders.
Another $1.9 billion will be used to buy back and consolidate tribal land that has become subdivided over the years.
A scholarship fund for Indian students will get $60 million.
“The government mismanaged these resources on a staggering scale,” Judge Hogan said in his statement. “The process has gone on long enough,” he added, noting that hundreds of potential beneficiaries have died during the 15-year litigation.
In a statement, President Obama said, "After fifteen years of litigation, today’s decision marks another important step forward in the relationship between the federal government and Indian Country." He added, "Resolving this dispute was a priority for my Administration, and we will engage in government-to-government consultations with tribal nations regarding the land consolidation component of the settlement to ensure that this moves ahead at an appropriate pace and in an appropriate manner. And going forward, my Administration will continue to strengthen our relationship with Indian Country."