The Latest: Feds pay final installments of $3.4 million settlement to Native Americans

The Cobell case paid mineral royalties long due to tribal members.



In 1996, Elouise Cobell, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet Tribe, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 500,000 Native landowners. Cobell’s lawyers argued that the federal government had deprived them of at least $170 billion in mineral royalty payments on reservation land, due to over a century of mismanagement by the Indian Trust system. The feds eventually agreed to pay $3.4 billion, one of the largest settlements in U.S. government history. Cobell died shortly after it was approved (“The burial of Elouise Cobell,” HCN, 11/28/11).


On Sept. 18, hundreds of thousands of checks were mailed out to Native Americans — the second and final installment in a $1.5 billion payout by the federal government. Beneficiaries will each receive between $869 and $10 million. The Cobell settlement includes another $1.9 billion for tribes to purchase land allotted to Native individuals by the 1887 Dawes Act. Ownership of many of the parcels has been fractionated among dozens or even hundreds of heirs.  

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