By any measure it’s a huge settlement but experts believe there’s much more to come. However without doubt the latest settlement between the US governments and a group of 17 native American tribes for mismanaging their tribal assets, represents a huge watershed in the disputes. The current settlement about to be paid by the US government total over $490 million and brings to an end many of the suits which stretch back decades.
It represents a success for the Obama administration who had always pledged to try and resolve some of the many lawsuits which total more than $3 billion. Some of these are by individuals and others have been lodged by tribal governments.
President Obama, who was of course still a candidate in 2008 gave a speech in Montana at the Crow Nation reservation where he made this promise.
“Few have been ignored by Washington as long as Native Americans, the first Americans. Too often, Washington has paid lip-service to working with tribes,”
These settlements represent his concerted efforts in resolving some of these disputes. Many of the suits origins can be traced back to the 1800s when the US Government was made trustee for huge amounts of tribal land. The history of these agreements is fairly controversial but there are some useful documentaries available online on the subject. Currently none are being broadcast but are available from the newsgroups and anonymous torrenting sites, see these.
According to NPR, there were numerous agreements dating back to the 19th century, the Department of Interior manages over 55 million acres of land on behalf of more than 240 tribes, and handles at least a hundred thousand leases on that land for a variety of uses, including commercial housing, agriculture, and mineral and gas extraction.
The US Government of course was the trustee of the tribal land, and therefor it must make sure that tribes receive “fair recompense” for the use of their tribal land, but Melody McCoy, a staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund who dealt with the majority of the 17 settlements, told the NPR that this was not always the case.