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McCain Legislation for Distribution of Funds to Gila River Indian Community

Location: Washington, DC

S. 162. A bill to provide for the use of distribution of certain funds awarded to the Gila River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Mr. President, I rise to introduce legislation to authorize the distribution of judgment funds to eligible tribal members of the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. Identical legislation unanimously passed the Senate last year, but was not able to be considered by the House of Representatives prior to the adjournment of the 107th Congress.

The Gila River Indian Community Judgment Fund Distribution Act resolves two half-century old claims by the Gila River tribe against the United States for failure to meet Federal obligations to protect the community's use of water from the Gila River and Salt River in Arizona. The original complaint was filed before the Indian Claims Commission on August 8, 1951. In 1982, the United States Court of Claims confirmed liability of the United States to the community, and recently the settlement of these two claims was determined to be 7 million.

So much time has passed that the Indian Claims Commission formerly in charge of fund distributions no longer exists. However, a debt does not disappear. The judgment award has since been transferred from the Indian Claims Commission to a trust account on behalf of the community, managed by the Office of Trust Management at the Department of the Interior.

This judgment award was certified by the Treasury Department on October 6, 1999 for the final portion of the litigation to the two remaining dockets of the Gila River Indian Community. Since that time, the community has been working with the BIA in an attempt to finalize a use and distribution plan to submit to Congress for approval. As outlined in its plan, the community has decided to distribute the judgment award equally to eligible tribal members.

The purpose of this legislation is to comply with Federal regulations which requires congressional approval for distribution of judgment funds to tribal members. The terms of the legislation reflect an agreement by all parties for a distribution plan for final approval by the Congress. As part of this legislation, the BIA is also seeking to resolve remaining expert assistance loans by the Gila River Indian Community, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as originally authorized by the Indian Claims Commission.

Members of the Gila River Indian Community have waited half a century for final resolution of all their legal claims regarding this matter. After considerable delay, it is only fair to resolve this matter and provide compensation as soon as possible. I hope that my colleagues will act quickly to move this legislation through the process.

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