By Bill John Baker
As you may know, the federal government is in the process of finalizing the $3.4 billion Cobell Settlement. This lawsuit revolves around years of historical mismanagement of federal trust accounts by the U.S. government. Many Cherokee citizens are involved in the lawsuit, and many more may be and not even know it. It is estimated more than 50,000 American Indians across Oklahoma will be receiving some sort of financial settlement from this historic case.
I encourage you to do the research to determine if you are eligible.
This settlement revolves around a class action lawsuit filed more than 14 years ago by Elouise Cobell (Blackfeet from Montana). The lawsuit claims the federal government violated its duties by mismanaging trust accounts and individual Indian trust lands.
The case languished for years in the court system, but now we are in the restitution phase thanks to the Obama administration's commitment to right historical wrongs and address a true agenda for Indian Country and Native people nationwide.
There are two classes eligible to receive money from the Cobell Settlement:
• The Historical Accounting Class — Individual Indians who had at least one cash transaction in an open Individual Indian Money (IIM) account between Oct. 25, 1994, and Sept. 30, 2009.
• The Trust Administration Class — Individual Indians who owned trust land as of Sept. 30, 2009, or who had an IIM account at any point between 1985 and Sept. 30, 2009.
Additionally, estates of deceased class members may also be eligible to receive money.
Payments to the Historical Accounting Class are underway, and many Cherokee Nation citizens have already received payment. The process has been mostly finalized. Call 1 (800) 969-1019 if you think you may be eligible but have not received payment yet.
The process of considering claims for the Trust Administration Class is ongoing. Members of the Trust Administration Class will likely receive at least $800. (Note: The actual amount will depend on the number of claims and the costs of administration.) You must file a claim form if you believe you are a member of the Trust Administration Class. The final deadline to file a claim form for the Trust Administration Class is March 1, 2013. For a claim form or more information, call 1-800-961-6109 or visit www.IndianTrust.com.
This case is about righting historical wrongs to American Indian families. We hope that every citizen who believes he or she may be entitled to a settlement takes the time and conducts the research to see if they qualify.
Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.