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By Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published March 01 2013

Deadline passes for Indian settlement

GRAND FORKS – Friday was the deadline for American Indians to apply for their share of the second installment of the Cobell settlement with the federal government, a $3.4 billion redress of faulty U.S. handling of Indian lands and money over many years.

The first payments of $1,000 each went to members of a “historical class,” Indians who owned land that was mismanaged or their descendants.

“Most people I have spoken with who were eligible for the (first disbursement) did receive payment,” said Delvin Cree, of Dunseith, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. “Many are eagerly awaiting the second round. … From what I hear, a lot of claims were filed.”

Those who received the initial payment included Cree, his parents (his father is enrolled with the Turtle Mountain tribe, his mother with the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe) and his cousin Jessie Cree, of rural Dunseith, who was featured in a Dec. 9 report on how people felt about the settlement.

Jessie Cree and his two sons expect to receive payments in the second round.

Most of Jessie Cree’s first check went to groceries and wood for his heating stove, Delvin Cree said. “He was wishing his monies would have come during the holiday season,” he said.

When the U.S. government carved up most reservations and parceled the land out to individual Indians more than a century ago, federal officials continued to manage the land on behalf of the Indians. The government also managed income from those lands, such as timber sales, mining and agricultural lease payments.

In 1996, several Indians led by Eloise Cobell of the Blackfeet tribe in Montana, sued the federal government, alleging that the land and money had been poorly managed. They sought a full accounting and compensation, but their lawsuit wasn’t settled until 2009, when the $3.4 billion settlement was announced.

Tribal ownership

Much of the money, about $1.9 billion, is to be used by the government to reconsolidate Indian land – much of it divided and reduced over time to tiny, unusable parcels – and return it to tribal control. Money also was set aside for Indian college scholarships.

The rest of the settlement, less attorneys’ fees, is to be paid to individual Indians who owned land that was mismanaged or to their descendants.

Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday that more than 200,000 tribal members nationwide have received $1,000 checks to compensate them for the mismanagement of land in which they have ownership.

The second round of payments, about $800 for most claimants, is for people who have what are called Individual Indian Money accounts but don’t own land that produced income. The deadline for applying for those payments was midnight Friday.

Indian Country Today, an online news outlet, reported Friday that some of the initial $1,000 payments were sent to wrong addresses, “so it is important to contact the Garden City Group to be sure that correct information is in place for the second payment,” which is expected to be distributed by fall.

The Garden City Group, assigned to administer the settlement, is at (800) 961-6109 or info@IndianTrust.com.