Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

March 18, 2011

Tribal citizens may qualify for portion of trust settlement

UKB officials are helping locals sort through required application documents that could result in cash settlements of various amounts.

TAHLEQUAH — Most area residents have probably seen the recent TV commercials or newspaper advertisements about a $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement.

Documents detailing the Cobell vs. Salazar settlement are available online, but officials with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma say some tribal citizens may not understand some of the legal terms used to describe the matter, or may not realize they qualify.

On Dec. 21, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted preliminary approval to this settlement. Individual Native Americans across the country –  including members of most federally recognized tribes west of the Mississippi River – may be part of the settlement.

“What Elouise Cobell [the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit] was doing was trying to make the federal government accountable for them holding land in trust for these tribal members,” said Sammy Still, UKB tribal media director. “What the lawsuit was for was mismanagement of tribal trust funds and assets.”

The lawsuit claims the federal government violated its trust duties by not providing a proper historical accounting relating to Individual Indian Money accounts and other trust assets. The feds are also accused of violating trust responsibilities for management of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing and other resources.

Still and other members of the UKB, along with representatives of other area tribes, attended a meeting in Muskogee Wednesday, when representatives of Cobell explained portions of the settlement. The federal government denies the claims, and says it has no legal responsibility and owes nothing to class members, according to www.indiantrust.com.

Two classes may be eligible for money

Two groups in the settlement may be eligible for payment.

“They said $1.5 billion of the funds will go directly to the IIM, which is Individual Indian Money account. [The recipient] should have an open IIM account,” said Still. “This is payment from the government for the use of their lands that they’re holding in trust. Those individuals will receive, through this settlement, $1,000, across the board. This is for all account holders.”

Those qualifying for the first class of the settlement are referred to as Historical Accounting Class Members. They should have had an open IIM account anytime between Oct. 25, 1994 and Sept. 30, 2009, with the account having at least one cash transaction that wasn’t later reversed. This includes estates of account holders who died as of Sept. 30, 2009, if the IIM account was still open on that date.

The estate of an IIM account holder who had died as of Sept. 30, 2009, is included in the first class if the IIM account or its related probate account was open as of that date, while heirs of any class member who died after Sept. 30, 2009, but before distribution of any settlement funds, will receive that class member’s settlement payments through probate.

Still said some who don’t qualify for the first settlement payment may qualify for the second class, which is labeled as the Trust Administration Class. All who qualify for the first class will also receive the second payment.

According to a notice authorized by a federal court, qualifiers in the Trust Administration class could receive anywhere from $800 to $125,000, depending on the sum of his or her account’s 10 highest years of revenue. For instance, if the revenue over those 10 highest years ranged from zero to $5,000, he or she could receive $800-$1,250.

“If they don’t have an IIM open account, these people that just own land will not receive the $1,000. The people who just own the land will receive the second check, which they said will be at least $800,” said Still.

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