Cobell Settlement Win is Not Financial

The Cobell case is not technically a monetary damages case, it is an equity case.   The plaintiffs contended that the U.S. government breached its trust duties to Native American beneficiaries and they were seeking relief in the form of a complete historical accounting of all Individual Indian Monies (IIM) accounts.  Through this accounting it was determined that gross mismanagement occurred and that financial adjustments to the accounts were due.

The primary victory in the settlement may be found in the U.S. government’s admission that the Allotment and Assimilation policy was ill-conceived and unjust.  The resulting treaty obligations were poorly administered and, in fact, breached.  The settlement includes some provision for repairing at least this one of the broken systems set up to administer federal treaty obligations. There is also renewed hope that the settlement may have a positive future impact on relations between the federal government and Indian Nations.

President Obama said in a statement:

“Resolving this dispute was a priority for my administration, and we will engage in government-to-government consultations with tribal nations regarding the land consolidation component of the settlement to ensure that this moves ahead at an appropriate pace and in an appropriate manner… And going forward, my administration will continue to strengthen our relationship with Indian country.”

Even though today’s US Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for individual account holder payments to proceed, the big win from the Cobell settlement may not have been realized yet.

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