First posted on Jun 7 2010, 12:21 PM ET |
Over the past 100 years, government record systems lost track of more than 40 million acres and who owns them. The records simply vanished. Meanwhile, documents were lost in fires and floods, buried in salt mines or found in an Albuquerque storage facility covered by rat feces and a deadly Hantavirus. Government officials exploited computer systems with no audit trails to turn Indian proceeds into slush funds but maintain plausible deniability.The lack of accountability is confirmed in the government’s own reports and testimony dating to the early 20th century. Conclusions of “fraud,” “corruption,” “institutional incompetence,” “deficiencies in accounting,” “the accounts lack credibility,” “multifaceted monster,” “organizational nightmare,” “dismal history of inaction,” “criminal negligence,” and “sorry history of department mismanagement,” are found regularly between 1915 and the present. Congress ordered an accounting in 1994 but interior secretaries in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations were held in civil contempt for not forking over records. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Texas Republican nominated by President Reagan who oversaw the case for a decade, called the whole matter “government irresponsibility in its purest form.”I sat in Lamberth’s courtroom in 1999 when Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt both lost his cool and conceded that the government couldn’t provide accurate cash balances of most accounts and that “the fiduciary obligation of the United States is not being fulfilled.” But the dispute would not end, as the Clinton and Bush administrations fought unceasing adverse rulings in a case inspiring 3,600 separate court filings and 80 published decisions. No single case, including the antitrust action against Microsoft, has been as heavily litigated and defended by the government, say lawyers.The government’s chief nemesis has been Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, the accountant-turned-banker who in 1987 started Blackfeet National Bank, the first national bank on a reservation. With a very small team of attorneys led by a Washington banking specialist, Dennis Gingold, her suit has inspired 3,600 court filings and 80 published decisions. Not even the antirust action against Microsoft was as heavily litigated by the government.The historic resistance melded with an unsympathetic appeals court often overruling the dispute’s two trial judges. It ordered removal of Lamberth, now the district court’s chief judge, due to harsh language toward the government. Last year, it threw out a ruling by District Judge James Robertson, Lamberth’s successor, that the Indians were owed $476 million, a pittance compared to the reduced, $48 billion they were seeking by then. Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain both urged settlement during the 2008 campaign.
A resolute Judge Robertson then hauled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and plaintiffs into his chambers last year. He made clear to one and all that, in light of the latest appeals court ruling, both sides had the choice between spending maybe another 10 years in court or trying to finally settle. The initial atmosphere was not necessarily conducive to harmony. Career government employees in the Interior, Justice and Treasury departments felt burned after years of being belittled by both the plaintiffs and Judge Lamberth. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs had minimal trust in the government. But political appointees in the Obama administration, including Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder, took their cue from President Obama’s own support of a settlement. Dozens of meetings ensued, with the many prickly issues including how far back in time one would go to try to determine who should benefit.
Ultimately, Judge Robertson prodded what, given all the legal setbacks, is an impressive $3.4 billion deal announced in December. Ironically, before the recent congressional recess, the House approved the deal and Robertson announced his retirement, meaning District Judge Thomas Hogan becomes the third, and hopefully final, arbiter in the case. He would oversee a so-called “fairness hearing” in which objections can be raised.
There is inherent complexity in wrapping up. If the Senate approves, there will be a media campaign throughout Indian Country, including direct mail, newspaper and broadcast public service advertisements. Garden City Group of Melville, New York, which handled the major class action against Enron, will be claims administrator. It will get computer lists from the Interior Department, with the account information of perhaps 500,000 Indians and then doublecheck names and addresses. How good are the records? Nobody is really sure.
The $3.4 billion will be placed in a still-to-be-selected bank and $1.4 billion will go to individuals, mostly in the form of checks ranging from $500 to $1,500. A small group, such as members of the Osage tribe who benefit from huge Oklahoma oil revenues, will get far more, based on a formula incorporating their 10 highest years of income between 1985 and 2009. As important, $2 billion will be used to buy trust land from Indian owners at fair market prices, with the government finally returning the land to tribes. Nobody can be forced to sell. As for the winning lawyers, their take is capped at $100 million, actually low by class-action standards, though Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, an orthopedic surgeon, has groused about the fees.
The fairness hearing will be interesting since many Indians have a hard time believing they’re not still being shafted. “This proposed settlement fixes nothing, the U.S. won by legal weaseling,” writes a member of the Upper Midwest’s Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe on a message board. He’s not alone. Like a family victimized by homicide, Indians may never experience enough healing to truly recover. But, finally, as hard as it is for them to believe, there really may be some justice.
Just another rant …On Jan 21 we all saw posts on social media cheering for America’s new president and had to respond.
I admit trump won the Electoral vote but he did not win the Popular Vote which is more important to most Americans who believe in one person one vote. Obviously, America seemed stunned at how election 2016 turned out and though there was talk about the electoral vote and how changes to the caucus, delegate rules, and processes, which have been a subject of debate for years- republicans are feeling themselves and doing little on all levels least we talk about the number of actual Sessions held in Congress.
Unfortunately, the electoral process not only gave us trump; the trump Congress became what some call “something else” and they still don’t seem to care that worried or interested in much else other than getting lifetime judges appointed rather than preparing for another cyber attack, infrastructure, climate, fires, natural disasters or keeping the chaos down to a low roar let alone how to improve the caucus and delegate rules.
Ah… to be an American in this era of trump, who started his bid for president by shouting that Obama is not an American? Yet, If you follow trump’s rise, and I do not use that word loosely, we are definitely still hearing folks comparing him to Hitler, maybe Mussolini, while seemingly supporting white nationalists and or supremacists as well. Yes, some say he is acting a little like Napoleon, or dreams of being a king and yes it is all snarky … but ultimately nouns like authoritarian or a dictator are more likely the goal; none of which is accepted or the norm here in the US of A. I voted for Hillary, supported her without question knowing what we had …it was a binary choice. This man is NOT presidential material, cannot fix our problems alone, he is NOT our savior nor does he care about his constituents who sadly were/are misinformed in my opinion. Apparently, with the fear being tossed around his constituents are all too willing to be pushed and verbally shoved into whatever direction they need to change the balance of white V nonwhite America?
However, the change that is coming is one that will appear positive by all those in his camp and given the position of power the President has, #teamtrump can and will do anything they want. The thing is, our end result seems to be headed in a negative direction. Why do I say this, any person with so much power should know not to act out with revenge in your mind, he has a reputation, is called a narcissist in all its forms; so what we have had to experience for the last 2 years will not only impact Hillary voters but his constituents who continue to vote against their better interests, and as we witness all the rollbacks of the Obama legacy, his administrations reach will be long and global in ways that will take years to clean up or correct. I first posted this in 2017, Today the news is covering his comments at the UN Assembly, tariffs, his SCOTUS nomination and as we watch the stock market take a dive on numerous occasions; I continue to be reminded of the house of bush #financialcollapse of 2007 and hope for the best. We have heard trump disparage people of colour,women,lgbt,trans on the regular and is now moving to legislate what looks like hate. The trump government stated it was planning on making folks in the US eat from dry goods boxes while taking money from countries that need help to cope with drought, disease and health care issues that impact children and women etc. Do folks on the right even know that $15billion with a B cut in spending includes a $7billion of social services for children?
I believe in choice, so the effing idea that women should be punished for making decisions about her own body is crazy in itself but this man has just made it impossible for Americans to help women globally with the Reagan gag rule…Do they know the number of unsafe-abortions may increase certainly along with other reproductive issues women have and will most definitely continue- in all probability, end up in a rise in the rate of mortality among women globally?
This man is a failing protectionist, acting like an isolationist with white nationalists seemingly standing side by side. History speaks to us rejecting this behavior so you have to wonder, will trump be the thing, that vehicle for women on both sides of the political aisle as well as race as a common denominator to vote out asap?! The poll numbers obviously suggest women see or are seeing that this man should not be in power but enormous numbers of women are marching not just in America but globally and while he is only talking to his constituents this carpetbagger can’t help but make all his speeches about him. He has stomped on our constitution already, broken what most will say are American values and while republicans wring their hands in joy, their corrupt behavior will show itself as some of our economist suggest could be another ride into another ditch with all the costs created by actions like moving the Israel embassy, repealing ACA just to name two lest we talk about block granting education ending Medicaid and increasing qualifiers reinstating others that restrict health care … this man is NOT the savior but an emperor wannabe though he seems to act as if he was voted in as a king … hopefully, his voters will see the light in time.
People of colour feel our rights our bodies will now be targets and a threat while living as Americans depending upon what city is most likely to take his comments literally. If or will their social norms make them choose to act above the rule of law, least we talk about how folks interpret trump’s rhetoric and unfortunately will be spread as often as he holds rallies for the people to see him and how far his communication staff is willing to go and say whatever it takes to keep his followers. Is it possible, is it apparent that this era of trump needed to happen to America …equality, freedom and the pursuit of happiness seemed to be sliding away … hopefully not gone, just a wicked storm before the reboot to a better America …right?
On January 26,2017 when trump whipped his pen of revenge out and seemingly took America back to the dark ages in just a couple of minutes then moved on to other acts of hypocrisy on the regular
Our country is NOT moving toward a more perfect union but I believe that we must gain insight, become mindful, analyze all that must get done before election 2018; we need to be 2-4 steps ahead of the trump administration and while I completely disagree with a couple of pro-trump bloggers, one was kind enough to accept opposition comments. I also admitted I understand their point, said as much when we elected Obama and watched as the opposition party in congress pledged to do nothing … So, as bill after bill had some kind of stipulation or nasty pill /rider attached to it; no one addressed stagnant wages, 21st-century living, climate, renewables or jobs and while babies were/still are being killed by guns; infrastructure among other things were all put on hold unless and until republicans could get the trifecta to make change their way. Thing is, they have done nothing to improve the status of Americans and our social programs like social security, Medicare and Medicaid —- which btw we all pay into are at risk in the hands of this government, “affordable healthcare” for regular folk is at risk … FACT! and how ironic is it that congress enjoys good health care paid for by US taxpayers … yet, women seem to be wearing scarlet letters or phrase of #preexistingcondition
I say he is talking in code… Has anyone in the US of A thought we would have to deal with freedom of speech and or censorship on this level? The government of trump seems to want absolute power of the people or at least the press, control women, tell scientists that any and all information about climate has to pass a White House review panel before the public sees it or that a joint government/nonprofit summit can be and have been canceled by a President? This is offensive and should be considered inappropriate autocratic behavior imo. The notion of being told to have babies let alone comply or be punished is insane, that the media needs to shut their mouths, torture works though it’s against the Geneva convention, that we should have taken the Iraqi oil or that nukes should be available to all while sidestepping the 1st Amendment … maybe a lot of other amendments as team trump hearkens back to a time when men(white mean) who governed considered themselves to be the only legitimate Americans and suffice it say there weren’t many amendments back then to protect what we now call folks in “protected classes” So, I am resisting. I am not naive, but I am hoping that enough folks who usually sit on the sidelines will finally see through the bull before November 6th.
Thanks for letting me exercise the 1st amendment
and Vote for Biden 2020