Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, heralded passage of the Cobell v. Salazar Settlement Agreement by the Senate. Legislation approving the Cobell Settlement Agreement was included in H.R. 4783, the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. The cost of the $3.4 billion settlement was completely paid for by offsets included in the bill.
"For a long time, I have believed that settling the case, rather than continuing to litigate it for more years, at even greater cost, is the best course. I am pleased that the Senate finally passed this historic legislation," Dorgan said. "Settlement of a class action case this large can never be perfect, but the benefits of the settlement far outweigh any defects. And, at long last, this settlement brings some justice to American Indian landowners. I am hopeful that the House will quickly pass this legislation."
For almost 15 years the Cobell litigation was stuck in court. Throughout the taxpayer funded litigation, the courts consistently found the federal government in violation of its trust responsibilities to American Indians. The Cobell settlement provides compensation to individual Indians for losses from over a century of mismanagement and even outright theft of funds and other assets entrusted to the federal government.
Almost one year ago, the plaintiffs and the federal government reached an agreement to settle the case for $3.4 billion, but the agreement required that Congress pass legislation authorizing and funding the settlement. The Settlement Agreement resolves the claims of the individual Indians and also fixes the problems that caused the mismanagement of several hundred thousand trust accounts maintained for American Indians by the federal government.
"Importantly, the settlement opens the door to a new future for the Department of the Interior, Indian tribes, and tribal members," Dorgan said. "When the settlement is signed into law, the Secretary of the Interior will establish a Commission to ensure that these shameful practices are not repeated."
The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 also includes legislation to resolve four significant Indian water rights cases. Settling these water rights cases will ensure that Indian tribes and their neighboring cities and towns will have reliable water supplies to support their communities and economic activities. The Act also includes legislation to resolve African-American farmers' discrimination claims.