WASHINGTON – Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes today announced five additional regional tribal consultations to discuss the land consolidation component of the recent settlement of the Cobell lawsuit. The first of six tribal consultations will be taking place tomorrow in Billings, Montana, with leaders of tribes in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. Today's announcement covers five more upcoming consultations in Minnesota, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma.
“With the recent approval of the Cobell Settlement and related actions, we are entering into an era of true trust reform,” Hayes said. “These consultations mark a new beginning and a time to move forward with a new sense of pride. They are fundamental to respecting the government-to-government relationship with the tribes and fulfilling the Department of the Interior's trust obligations in a more pro-active, transparent and customer-friendly manner. Acknowledging the wrongdoing of the past is a first step toward jointly composing a new narrative—a chapter marked by a renewed commitment to Indian nations, and a story focused on empowerment and collaboration.”
The five regional consultations announced today will occur Thursday, August 18, 2011, in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Friday, September 16, 2011, in Seattle, Washington; Tuesday, September 27, 2011, in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Thursday, September 29, 2011, in Phoenix, Arizona; and Thursday, October 6, 2011, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“These consultations mark a new beginning and a time to move forward with a new sense of pride. They are fundamental to respecting the government-to-government relationship with the tribes and fulfilling the Department of the Interior's trust obligations,” Hayes added. “An unfortunate chapter in the Department's history will be put behind us as we turn the page to jointly compose a new narrative—a chapter marked by a renewed commitment to Indian nations, a story that moves forward by working together.”
The $3.4 billion Cobell settlement was approved by Congress on November 30, 2010 (Claims Resolution Act of 2010) and signed by President Obama on December 8, 2010. The Cobell Settlement will address the Federal Government's responsibility for an historical accounting of Individual Indian trust accounts and trust mismanagement claims on behalf of more than 300,000 individual Indians. A fund of $1.5 billion will be used to compensate class members for their historical accounting, trust administration and asset mismanagement claims.
In addition, to address the continued proliferation of thousands of new trust accounts caused by the "fractionation" of land interests through succeeding generations, the Settlement establishes a $1.9 billion fund for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests. The land consolidation program will provide individual American Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities. Up to $60 million of the $1.9 billion will be set aside to provide scholarships for post secondary higher education and vocational training for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
On May 27, 2011, U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas F. Hogan granted communication between representatives of the United States and Cobell class members only in regards to the Trust Land Consolidation component of the Settlement. This enabled the Department of the Interior to set up regional tribal consultations, the first of which was announced on June 15 in the Federal Register and takes place in Billings on July 15.
More information on the upcoming consultations and other aspects of the Cobell settlement can be found at www.doi.gov/cobell.