Interior Makes Largest Transfer to Date to Cobell Education Scholarship Fund

 

More than $12 million transferred as a result of Land Buy-Back Program

Press Release, U.S. Department of the Interior

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of the Interior today announced it has transferred more than $12 million to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, bringing the total amount transferred so far to $17 million. Authorized by the historic Cobell Settlement, and funded in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program), the Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance through scholarships to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary and graduate education and training.

“With every transfer to the Scholarship Fund, we are making valuable investments in the training and education that Native students need to succeed in today’s world,” said Interior Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor. “This program is a lasting tribute to Elouise Cobell, whose vision, leadership and concern for tribal students and their families has created a living legacy for future generations of tribal leaders.”

“The Department is thrilled that the Cobell Scholarship Fund is growing quickly so that Native students can pursue their academic dreams to go to college or graduate school,” said Hilary Tompkins, Solicitor of the Department of the Interior and one of the lead negotiators of the Cobell Settlement.  “The expertise, abilities and skills these students gain can help to advance self- determination and shape future leaders in Indian Country.”

The Scholarship Fund is administered by the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC) located in Albuquerque, N.M. The five-member Cobell Board is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the activities of the fund’s administering organization. Interested applicants should consult the AIGC website at AIGCS.org.

The Cobell Scholarship Fund is overseen by the Cobell Board of Trustees.  Alex Pearl, the Chairman of the Cobell Board, said, “This is meant to be a perpetual fund so that Indian students will be able to attend college and receive Cobell Scholarship Funds long after we’re gone.  The transfer that the Interior Department is making today will nearly triple the size of the Scholarship Fund precisely when the Board is in the process of deciding what funds can be made available for scholarships for the upcoming academic year beginning this fall.”  Pearl went on to say, “The Board is now working with the American Indian Graduate Center to determine the eligibility criteria, but one thing is certain—as required by statute, Cobell Scholarship Funds will be available only to American Indian and Alaska Native students.”

“We at AIGC are eager to establish a working relationship with the Cobell Board of Trustees and to fund applicants for the Cobell Scholarship Program. We are hoping to begin funding with this fall’s term. The provision of a scholarship program in conjunction with the Cobell Settlement was an inspired idea, and we are pleased to have been selected to administer the program,” said Sam Deloria, Director of the American Indian Graduate Center.

Interior makes quarterly transfers to the Scholarship Fund as a result of Buy-Back Program sales, up to a total of $60 million. The amount contributed is based on a formula set forth in the Cobell Settlement that sets aside a certain amount of funding depending on the value of the fractionated interests sold. These contributions do not reduce the amount that an owner will receive for voluntarily consolidating their interests. Thus far the Buy-Back Program has paid more than $360 million to individual landowners and restored the equivalent of almost 570,000 acres of land to tribal governments

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. Consolidated interests are transferred to tribal government ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

Turk Cobell, the President of the Cobell Board, stated that “applications for scholarships for the fall semester will be made available shortly online through the American Indian Graduate Center.”

Buy-Back Program offers are currently pending for fractional interest owners at the Umatilla Indian Reservation (deadline: April 13), Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (deadline: April 20), and Rosebud Indian Reservation (deadline: May 16).

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 to update their contact information, ask questions about their land or purchase offers, and learn about the financial implications of consolidating land. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.

Interior Sends Nearly $1.5 Million in Purchase Offers to Landowners with Fractional Interests at Squaxin Island Indian Reservation

Source: Native News Online

 

WASHINGTON – Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor Wednesday announced that nearly $1.5 million in purchase offers have been sent to more than 600 landowners with fractional interests at the Squaxin Island Indian Reservation in Washington through the Department’s Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program). Interested sellers will have until January 26, 2015, to return accepted offers.

The Buy-Back Program has successfully concluded transactions worth more than $300 million and has restored the equivalent of nearly 500,000 acres of land to tribal governments.

“This Program – developed in partnership with Cobell plaintiffs – is an exceptional opportunity that cannot be taken for granted. As we enter our second year of sales for this voluntary program, we will continue our commitment to reach as many interested landowners as possible across Indian Country,” said Deputy Secretary Connor. “We must ensure that landowners are given every chance to make informed decisions about the potential sale of their land at fair market value.”

The tribe will host an outreach event on Monday, December 15, from 5-7 p.m. PT at the Squaxin Island Tribe Community Kitchen, 10 SE Squaxin Lane, Shelton, Wash. The event will feature speakers from the Buy-Back Program, notary public services, and staff available to help landowners with questions about their offer packages. Landowners can contact the tribe’s staff at: 877-387-3649 or 360-426-9781.

The Buy-Back Program implements the land consolidation component of the CobellSettlement, which provided $1.9 billion to purchase fractional interests in trust or restricted land from willing sellers at fair market value within a 10-year period. Individuals who choose to sell their interests receive payments directly into their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts. In addition to receiving fair market value for their land based on objective appraisals, sellers also receive a base payment of $75 per offer, regardless of the value of the land.

Consolidated interests are immediately restored to tribal trust ownership for uses benefiting the reservation community and tribal members.

Sales of land interests will also result in up to $60 million in contributions to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund. This contribution by Interior is in addition to the amounts paid to individual sellers, so it will not reduce the amount landowners receive for their interests.

There are approximately 245,000 owners of nearly three million fractional interests, spanning 150 Indian reservations, who are eligible to participate in the Buy-Back Program.Many see little or no economic benefit from what are often very small, undivided interests in lands that cannot be utilized due to their highly fractionated state.

The Department recently announced 21 additional locations where the Program will begin implementation, bringing the total number of locations actively engaged in the Buy-Back Program to 42. This total represents 83 percent of all outstanding fractionated ownership interests.

Landowners can contact the Trust Beneficiary Call Center at 888-678-6836 with questions about their purchase offers. Individuals can also visit their local Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) or Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) office, or find more information at www.doi.gov/buybackprogram/landowners in order to make informed decisions about their land.

First Checks are Mailed for the Nearly $950 Million in Cobell Trust Administration Class Payment

SOURCE  Garden City

SEATTLE, Sept. 15, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — The Garden City Group, Inc. (Garden City) and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, announced that the first checks were mailed today, Monday, September 15, to the Trust Administration Class in the Cobell Indian Trust Settlement.

On August 30, 2014, the Interior Department provided the data to Garden City, the firm Court-appointed to administer the Settlement, for the payments and on September 11, The United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered an Order approving plaintiffs’ unopposed motion to begin distribution of nearly $950 million. This was the final approval needed to commence payment of the Trust Administration portion of settlement funds to Class Members.

“Garden City is sending checks to Trust Administration Class Members where we have a current address beginning today,” said Jennifer Keough, Chief Operating Officer, Garden City. “Checks may take five to seven days to reach Class Members once they have been mailed.”

The Cobell Settlement is the largest class action settlement against the federal government.  Filed in 1996 by the late Elouise Cobell and other Native American leaders, it sought an accounting of the individual Indian trust accounts and reform of the trust system, which had been mismanaged for over a century.  Once the case settled, counsel for the Plaintiffs, Bill Dorris and David Smith of Kilpatrick Townsend, and Garden City were tasked with distributing funds to 500,000 individual Indian beneficiaries across the country.  However, the records from the Department of Interior reflected decades of neglect.

As David Smith, Counsel for the Cobell Plaintiffs in the Washington, DC office of Kilpatrick Townsend explained, “There were insufficient or absolutely no addresses for over 315,000 class members, 22,000 individuals Interior listed as alive were deceased, over 1,200 Interior listed as deceased we found were still alive, and there were thousands of whom Interior had no record at all.  But it was important that Elouise Cobell’s legacy be fulfilled and that class members receive the money to which they were entitled under the Settlement.  By working closely with tribes, associations, and individual Indians across the country we were able, in just over a year and a half, to fix trust records that had not been adequately addressed by the federal government for generations.”

For more information, please visit www.indiantrust.com.

Frustration grows among Native Americans due their share of $3.4B land-royalty settlement

By MATT VOLZ,  Associated Press

HELENA, Montana — Laura Juarez is supposed to receive close to $1,200 as her share of a $3.4 billion settlement among hundreds of thousands of Native Americans whose land-trust royalties were mismanaged by the government for more than a century.

The Bakersfield, California, notary public was going to pool that money with her husband’s share, along with a portion of what was coming to her father’s estate, to send her 17-year-old daughter to a student-ambassador program in Australia.

But the money, which she expected in December, still hasn’t come and her daughter isn’t going on next month’s trip.

The payments have been held up by more than 2,400 appeals by people who were ruled ineligible to participate in the settlement. As the special master appointed to the case goes through those appeals, Juarez and other American Indians are growing increasingly frustrated over what they see as justice delayed.

“It seems as if the Native Americans are being screwed again,” said Juarez, a 39-year-old member of the Comanche nation. “I know several others who have given up on it. It’s created a sour taste in their mouths. We get our hopes up just to have it knocked down.”

The 493,724 beneficiaries identified as of the beginning of May already know how much they are supposed to receive from the settlement — the individual payments range from $850 to nearly $10 million — and many had earmarked those amounts to splurge on big purchases or simply pay their bills.

The delays have resulted in complaints to the claims administrator, an online petition and even a letter from Montana Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh about a lack of transparency and misinformation regarding the payments.

“This delay is placing a financial burden on Montana families, and forcing many who are expecting payments to take out loans that they are now unable to repay,” the April 3 letter to the settlement’s claims administrator, Garden City Group, said.

Jennifer Keough, Garden City Group’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, did not return a call for comment.

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, recognizing the frustration, plan to ask a federal judge this week to allow the distribution to take place before the appeals are finalized.

“The agreement says that no trust administration class payments can be made until all the members are identified,” said David Smith, an attorney for Kilpatrick, Townsend and Stockton LLP. “There are a lot of appeals, and many are extremely lengthy. We want to make sure everybody has a chance to participate in the settlement and it’s not a rush job.”

At issue is the second of two distributions in one of the largest U.S. government settlements in history, prompted by a lawsuit filed in 1996 by Blackfeet elder Elouise Cobell of Montana. Cobell sued the government after realizing that many Indians who owned land held in trust for them by the government lived in poverty with no accounting of the royalties they were due when the Interior Department leased their land for development, exploration or grazing.

The lawsuit claimed the Interior Department mismanaged and squandered billions of dollars that were supposed to go to the landowners since the 1880s, but incomplete and missing records prevented them from determining how much was lost.

It took about 14 years to reach a settlement with the government, then another year for Congress to approve the deal in December 2010. It wasn’t until December 2012 that all the appeals over the settlement were dismissed and the first monetary distributions were mailed.

Those 339,106 beneficiaries, called the historical accounting class, received a flat payment of $1,000 apiece. That was the easy part.

The second round of distributions go to what is called the trust administration class in varying amounts based on a formula that looks at 10 years of the highest earnings in the royalty accounts held by the government, which are called Individual Indian Money trust accounts.

Identifying the people in that second class — which also contains members of the first class — has proven to be a challenge due in part to the Interior Department’s incomplete record-keeping, Smith said. For example, the Interior Department had no records for thousands of people in Oklahoma who had made claims, leading to an extension of the appeals period while they tried to prove their claims by going to the state courts for documentation.

Plus, there were no known addresses for 65,000 people identified as beneficiaries, which Garden City Group has been able to whittle down to about 14,000, Smith said.

The search for those still on the list continues, though it won’t hold up the payments, he said.

That’s little consolation to the beneficiaries who are waiting. Not only are their payments delayed, but their checks are diluted when more class members are added.

In Juarez’s case, she was told last summer she would receive $1,260. As of February, that had been reduced to $1,197 with the addition of more beneficiaries.

“If they’re entitled to that money, that’s great — awesome — but the timing is taking way too long,” Juarez said. “A deadline is a deadline. They are holding up so many people.”

‘Cobell’ Dishonored by Interior’s Buy-Back Plan

gabriel-galandaBy Gabriel S. Galanda, ICTMN

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Land Buy Back Program has been lauded as the “hallmark” of the $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement. As the Buy Back Program now lifts off in hurried fashion at Makah and Pine Ridge, the program dishonors both the letter and spirit of Cobell.

Cobell settled more than 500,000 tribal members’ trust land and asset mismanagement claims, dating back to the 1890s. Not tribal government claims; tribal member claims. Now, copy.9 billion in tribal member settlement monies has been allocated to help tribes “buy back” those members’ allotted or restricted fee lands. In practice, these “buy backs” are accomplished through the forced sale of tribal members’ ancestral lands. Injustice to individual Cobell class members aside, assuming that financially supporting a tribe will benefit that tribe’s members, one would hope that the buy-back wealth would be spread throughout Indian Country. After all, those 500,000 members of the Cobell class surely represent the vast majority of the 566 federally recognized tribes.

But it has recently come to light that Interior has limited the lion’s share of the copy.9 billion in buy back funding to only 40 tribes. Interior’s outside appraisers recently let it slip that “the program will exclude reservations east of the Mississippi and in Alaska.” Interior was quick to retract that statement, but the genie was already out of the bottle. If that were not bad enough, other swaths of Indian Country with large Indian populations west of the Mississippi, like all of California Indian country (save the Washoe Tribe, which is headquartered in Nevada), are excluded from the program.

Cobell, for better or worse, was fought for all of Indian Country, not just 40 tribes. For the sake of the 500,000-plus Cobell class members whose land and related claims were extinguished for eternity, tribal communities west of the Mississippi, in Alaska and California, and elsewhere, all deserve to share in the Buy Back wealth.

The fact is that the Buy Back Program and its goal to consolidate fractionated Indian lands have little to do with what is right or fair. The program is not really about affording “benefits of those lands for the tribes and their members” as Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes once professed; or “expand[ing] tribal economic development opportunities across Indian Country” as Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said more recently. The program is designed to serve the best interests of the United States; to resolve “enormous administrative difficulties for the government” – and related liability – caused by fractionation. 
Cobell v. Salazar, 573 F.3d 808 (D.C. Cir. 2009). To feign otherwise is dishonest.

As to the letter of the law that is Cobell, the Buy Back Program fares no better. In 2004, the U.S. District Court for the District Court of Columbia in Cobell v. Norton, affirmed that “Interior may acquire land from individual Indian owners to consolidate fractional ownership interests and thereby ‘lessen the number of owners.’” 225 F.R.D. 41 (D.D.C. 2004). However, the court went on to hold that the United States’ trust-fiduciary responsibility requires that the “individual Indian owner of trust lands . . . give truly informed consent to the sale of trust corpus” before any sale is approved by Interior.

The Cobell court made clear that any such sale requires clear “communication between individual Indian trust-land owners and agents of Interior” and that “trust beneficiaries ought not have to make the decision to sell trust assets without access to all the relevant information,” including answers to any questions or concerns they may have. More generally, legal scholar Derek Haskew explains that the United States’ fiduciary duties to tribal member landowners includes consultation, which “can roughly be understood as communication by Indian beneficiaries of their desires to the federal trustees who make ultimate determinations about what happens with the lands Indians occupy.” 24 AM. IND. L. REV. 21 (2000).

Because the Cobell court found such consultation, communication and information wanting, it felt compelled, as a matter of law, “to guarantee that Interior adheres to its fiduciary duties, and to ensure that trust beneficiaries receive the full value of conscientious behavior by their Trustee.”

Yet, despite Cobell’s clear instruction, Interior now embarks on a hastily developed “plan” to cause the sale of individually owned Indian lands. “Mass appraisal valuation techniques” will be utilized, amidst “categorical exclusion” from any federal environmental review. Federal regulations that require Indian land sales to occur by “auction or negotiation” are not being brought to light. Cobell v. Norton, supra. Pivotally, “offer packages” will be mass mailed to individual Indian owners with, among other things, a cover letter, conveyance deed and related sale instructions, as well as “self-addressed return envelope, postage prepaid, if the individual chooses to return…the signed and notarized Deed.” In not so many words: “sign here.”

Mass mailings do not effectively facilitate “communication by Indian beneficiaries of their desires to the federal trustees.” Offer packages with self-addressed return envelopes do not afford a landowner “all the relevant information” to make any informed decision. These one-size-fits-all sale mechanisms do not “ensure that trust beneficiaries receive the full value of conscientious behavior by their Trustee.” In all, the buy back process is simply not designed to obtain “truly informed consent” from tribal member landowners. It is designed to serve federal interests – and it dishonors Cobell.

Gabriel S. Galanda is the managing partner at Galanda Broadman, PLLC, an American Indian-owned law firm.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/03/03/cobell-dishonored-interiors-buy-back-plan?page=0%2C1

University’s Native American Center to honor Cobell

KIM BRIGGEMAN, Missoulian

President Barack Obama meets with Elouise Cobell in the Oval Office, Dec. 8, 2010 - the day he signed legislation approving the Cobell settlement.

President Barack Obama meets with Elouise Cobell in the Oval Office, Dec. 8, 2010 – the day he signed legislation approving the Cobell settlement.

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – Elouise Cobell had a way of sorting through complex Native American land ownership tangles and combing out what’s right.

It’s part of the legacy the leader from the Blackfeet tribe left behind when she died in 2011, and one that still resounds with Terry Payne.

“Elouise had a voracious appetite for justice, and she was an inspiration to me and so many other people,” said Payne, a Missoula businessman whose family was the lead donor for construction of the Payne Family Native American Center on the University of Montana campus.

Now Payne is helping fund an effort to complete the building. He provided the launching gift for the $1.2 million Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute, dedicated to the passionate advocate of Native rights who was instrumental in obtaining a $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement from the federal government.

Pending approval by the Montana Board of Regents in Helena this week, the Cobell Institute is envisioned to be a complex of labs, classrooms and a small theater in the unfinished lower level of the three-year-old Native American Center on the southwest edge of the UM Oval.

University President Royce Engstrom announced creation of the institute Wednesday at a ceremony in the center’s Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place.

“Her life’s work was the pursuit of justice and we here at the University of Montana are humbled that her family has permitted us to honor her,” he said.

The institute, said Engstrom, can be a place “where future leaders will meet the challenges around land and asset management as well as understand worldwide cultures of indigenous people.”

The addition in the “garden level” of the building will be “a space where students can work effectively in small and sometimes not so small groups on real-world problems, in this case all related to Native communities,” said Chris Comer, dean of UM’s College of Arts and Sciences that includes the Native American Studies Department.

Interesting Geometry

There are 6,500 square feet to work with, and on-campus charettes began Thursday (March 7) to determine how best to do it. Comer said the building’s “interesting geometry” – it’s built around a 12-sided rotunda, each side representing a Montana tribe – will make it “a real puzzle to say how we best use that space.”

The working idea is for two laboratories – a land lab filled with computers and a culture lab with digital and media resources. Another room will probably be set up as a classroom with projection capabilities for digital movies.

“Film studies have become important in a number of areas of the College (of Arts and Sciences) that really have no proper venue for that,” Comer said.

The other two rooms will likely be standard classrooms, built in a way that can accommodate meetings. Comer said the institute will be a collaborative affair, designed not just for the Native American Studies Department, but for geography, forestry and conservation, anthropology and law students as well.

The land lab will allow students to work on intensive mapping projects.

“When you think about mapping in Indian Country, it’s really complex because reservation land has all different kinds of overlapping ownership, from trust land to tribally controlled land to individual fee patent land,” said Dave Beck, who chairs the Department of Native American Studies.

A sophisticated GIS-centered lab will allow the overlay of historic maps to map landownership patterns with natural and cultural resources. An upstairs room in the Native American Center is dedicated to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, which does similar work.

The Minnesota-based foundation has been very encouraging of the Cobell Institute project.

“They’ve basically said if you build this we’ll work with you to help students identify and get into real-world projects for Native communities,” said Comer. “We’re really excited by the prospect of working with groups like that.

“We don’t want busywork exercise. That’s really Royce’s vision: When they’re working on classroom projects, those projects will produce something that’s helping a community and making a real difference.”

Beck said the culture lab will probably provide access to such resources as creative language materials from tribes and communities, as well as distance learning capabilities that allow faculty from across the campus to have face-to-face interaction with indigenous communities in New Zealand, Australia and Norway.

While the Payne family provided the lion’s share of the $1.2 million toward construction, and other funding sources have been tapped, Comer said some money still needs to be raised. He hopes Wednesday’s announcement spurs those efforts.

Construction will begin as early as next month, and officials said the Cobell Institute could be ready for students by the end of the year.