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Before the Memorial Day holiday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010" which includes a provision authorizing the Cobell settlement. It now awaits approval in the Senate.

Individual Indian trust beneficiaries have expressed overwhelming support for this settlement. Not only does it put $1.4 billion into the hands of individual Indians in a relatively short period of time, but it promises to make another $2 billion available to individual Indians over the next10 years, preserve sacred Indian lands for future generations and create a fund for post-secondary education worth up to $60 million.

This is the largest judgment against the United States since the founding of the Republic and we have a unique opportunity to right an historic injustice.

For these reasons, I intend to direct our attorneys to work with the government to extend the settlement agreement yet again so justice may have a chance, even though every extension delays distribution of our funds.

Enough is enough. A few tribal leaders in Indian Country, some with misguided intentions, want to terminate the settlement for their own purposes.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, has introduced an amendment that he says would "improve" the settlement agreement. But the agreement provides that the settlement terminates if there are any changes. Barrasso knows this.

Tribal leaders should know better, and most do, than to support a new senator from Wyoming who rarely, if ever, has supported Indians. Barrasso has tried to gain support from certain leaders in Indian Country for his amendment. He argues that his amendment really does not make significant changes to the settlement.

Of course, most tribal leaders and individual Indian trust beneficiaries are not buying it. Still, there are a few wrong-headed tribal leaders who support his plan to kill our agreement.

If your tribal leaders are voting to change the settlement in any way, they are helping Barrasso kill our settlement and they are depriving you of your money.

Understanding who is with us and who is against us is important because the National Congress of American Indians (being held today through Wednesday in Rapid City) plans to consider a resolution that would help Barrasso kill the Cobell settlement.

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Any legislative changes to the settlement agreement will terminate the settlement. Let me stress that most tribal leaders support our settlement.

It is my understanding from conversations with senior Interior and Justice officials and certain tribal attorneys that there will be no settlement with any tribe if Cobell is not settled.

Tribes are not parties in our case and would receive no funds from our settlement. Nevertheless, they are beneficiaries of the settlement.

Tribes will benefit directly from the $2 billion land consolidation program, which would result in the largest restoration of land to Indian tribes in U.S. history.

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It still amazes me that tribal leaders would oppose our multi-billion dollar settlement that so clearly benefits them and their members - even though they did nothing to help us.

This is not the first time in our history that some of our leaders have decided to sacrifice individual Indian interests for their political gain.

I am working hard to see that they fail.

Elouise Cobell, who is attending this week's conference in Rapid City, is a member of Montana's Black Feet Nation and a lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit over mismanagement of the Indian Trust account.

 

 

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