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Native Americans disappointed in Obama on trust suit

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    Native Americans disappointed in Obama on trust suit
    By Jodi Rave, Lee Enterprises
    Rapid City Journal - 30 March 2009
    Rapid City Journal | News ยป Top | Native Americans disappointed in Obama on trust suit

    Native advocates who believed President Barack Obama would settle a longstanding lawsuit between the Interior Department and Native landholders say they are disappointed with the new administration.

    Instead, Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar have expressed a need to settle the Cobell v. Salazar case in court rather than sit down and talk to Native landowners and negotiate a settlement.

    "Salazar's out there talking, saying he wants to settle this case and putting false hopes into Indian people," Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the case, said.

    "It's really a slam in the face," she said. "Why is this administration taking this avenue? They have to live up to their trust responsibility, and they need to talk to Indian people."

    Dennis Gingold, lead attorney in the 12-year-old case, pointed out Wednesday that Salazar is a trustee. "And he can't sit down and talk to the trust beneficiaries?" Gingold asked.

    Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the department could not comment because the case is in litigation. Salazar, Barkoff said, "is sincere in trying to find a resolution to this case."

    Lawyers for the Interior Department as well as lawyers for Native landholders both filed successful appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals immediately after a federal judge in August awarded a $455 million settlement regarding the department's mismanagement of the tribal trust-fund system.

    Cobell, who is from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, expressed disappointment with Salazar's decision to talk of settlement only after the case is heard in the Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for May 11 in Washington, D.C.

    "People in Indian Country are expecting a settlement," Cobell said. "For him to say he can't work on a settlement until the Court of Appeals rules -- well, the opportunity is now. Now is the time he needs to pull the forces and powers together."

    The Interior Department oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of Special Trustee, two agencies with significant oversight of Native issues. The department has been responsible for collecting and distributing money earned from natural resources on 11 million acres of land owned by Native individuals. The department's trust responsibility to Native landowners dates back to 1887.

    Salazar initially provided hope about settling the lawsuit at a National Congress of American Indians gathering, Cobell said.

    She said the Interior Department, the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department all need to work to settle the case. "Certainly, the Obama administration can call Justice and say: 'Lay off. Pull off the dogs. We're going to stop this litigation.'"

    Cobell said she and her lawyers had better luck negotiating with the Bush administration than with Obama's.

    Interior Department lawyers argue that the government does not owe Native landowners any money for mismanagement of Native land held in trust by the department. Cobell's lawyers once argued that more than $170 billion was missing or misplaced from the Individual Indian Money Accounts.

    Gingold criticized Salazar's lack of experience in land management. "Let me be fair. It's not reasonable to expect something from someone who has no substantive knowledge on any of the issues. Remember, he was a United States senator, and prior to that, an attorney general.

    "In neither one of those jobs did he have any substantive responsibilities. He was a very effective politician who was elected. And his career has been running for office."


    What's your opinion on this issue?

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2
    For those interested in keeping up with Obama's campaign promises on Native Issues, go to:

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


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