The Obama administration has settled lawsuits with 17 Native American tribes that accused the federal government of long-standing mismanagement of their funds and natural resources.
With these settlements, the administration will have resolved the majority of outstanding claims, some dating back a century, with more than 100 tribes and totaling more than $ 3.3 billion, according to the Justice and Home Departments.
“This is a significant achievement that will end, honorably and fairly, decades of discord that have not only undermined valuable resources, but also strained relationships,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates. .
The settlements totaling $ 492.8 million come as thousands of Native Americans representing tribes from across the country joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) of 1,172 miles, which they say threatens their water supply. and passes through sacred Indian cemeteries.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the Standing Rock Tribe’s demand to stop construction of the pipeline. But District Judge James E. Boasberg’s decision was effectively put on hold when the Justice, Army and Home Departments announced that the Army Corps would not grant easement until it determined s ‘he had to reconsider previous decisions regarding the pipeline. He hasn’t made that decision yet.
Meanwhile, thousands of Native Americans remain encamped in a nearby field in protest. Indigenous leaders are expected to protest the pipeline Monday in Washington outside the White House Conference of Tribal Nations, where tribal leaders meet with President Obama.
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Many tribal leaders say that Obama has done more for the Indian country than any other president. They highlight the administration’s efforts to improve the justice system on reserves and work directly with tribes on long-standing land disputes, such as the settlements announced on Monday.
The 17 affected tribes include the Gila River, the Colorado Indian Tribes and the Apache Tribes of San Carlos in Arizona, the White Earth Nation in Minnesota, and the Confederate Tribes of Oregon from the Umatilla Reservation. The tribes had accused the federal government of mismanaging trust land, which is leased for timber harvesting, farming, grazing, and oil and gas extraction, among others.
The Home Office manages approximately 56 million acres of federally recognized tribal trust land and over 100,000 leases on these lands. The department also manages approximately 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 tribes.
“It’s huge when you can sit down with the tribal chiefs and see in their faces what this settlement will mean for their tribes and the fact that they think they are being heard for the first time in a meaningful way,” said Jim Gette, Environment and Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice.
Four years ago, the Justice and Home Ministries reached deals totaling more than $ 1 billion with 41 tribes for similar claims. Since then, the departments have settled the claims of 57 other tribes, including those announced on Monday. In 2014, the Obama administration agreed to pay the Navajo Nation, located in parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, $ 554 million in the largest settlement with a single Native American tribe.
“The resolution of these long-standing disputes reflects the Obama administration’s continued commitment to reconciliation and the empowerment of the Indian country,” Home Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.