WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Finalization of a $3.4 billion settlement between the United States and nearly 500,000 American Indians was lauded Monday by the Obama administration.
The settlement of the long-running class action lawsuit over the U.S. government's management of Indian trust funds and accounting of individual trust accounts became official Saturday following action by the U.S. Supreme Court and expiration of the appeal period.
President Obama said in a statement issued by the White House that he welcomed the final approval of the so-called Cobell settlement, named for the late Elouise Cobell, who was one of the plaintiffs. He said it clears the way for reconciliation between the trust beneficiaries and the federal government.
"While Elouise Cobell, the named plaintiff in this case is no longer with us, her legacy will be a renewed commitment to our trust relationship with Indian Country," Obama said. "I thank her for her honorable work, and also want to thank the leaders at the Departments of the Interior, Justice and Treasury who helped reach this conclusion."
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar outlined steps his department will take to help implement the settlement, which includes a $1.5 billion fund to be distributed to class members and a $1.9 billion fund for a land consolidation program that also will have a scholarship component of up to $60 million.
"This marks the historic conclusion of a contentious and long running period of litigation," Interior Department Solicitor Hilary Tompkins said. "Through the hard work and good will of plaintiffs, Interior and Treasury officials and Department of Justice counsel, we are turning a new page and look forward to collaboratively working with Indian country to manage these important funds and assets."
Congress approved the Cobell settlement Nov. 30, 2010, as part of the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 and Obama signed it the following month. The district court approved it Aug. 4, 2011, and it had been upheld through the appeals process.