News Column

Four Tribes Get $101 Million From Settled Trust Lawsuits

Nov 20, 2012

Tom Lawrence

Four South Dakota tribes recently received more than $100 million in total settlements from the federal government.

The money is for trust fund accounting and trust mismanagement claims filed by the four tribes over tribal lands and minerals.

The money was awarded in August after the tribes agreed to drop lawsuits and accept the settlements. The federal government made the payments, according to the agreement, but does not admit liability or wrongdoing.

Wyn Hornbuckle, of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, said the payments were made in these amounts:

--Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in both South and North Dakota, $48.9 million.

--Rosebud Sioux Tribe, $20 million.

--Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, $18 million.

--Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, $14.5 million.

--Total: $101.4 million.

The money was awarded as part of $1.7 billion in settlements to 65 tribes made in the past decade, according to Hornbuckle. Most of that, $1.25 billion to 59 tribes, has been awarded this year.

"The settlement between the government and the South Dakota tribes, including Lower Brule, is for the trust fund accounting and trust mismanagement claims that the tribes had asserted in federal district court and if applicable in the Court of Federal Claims," he said in an email to The Daily Republic.

More tribes may receive settlements, according to Hornbuckle. He said other tribal governments are in negotiations with the DOJ, including at least one South Dakota tribe.

The tribes have been seeking an accounting of the Interior Department's management of the tribal trust funds.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the United States executed and filed their settlement agreement in August, Hornbuckle said. The U.S. Treasury transferred the settlement amount into a private, non-trust bank account designated by the tribe's attorneys for the benefit of the tribe.

A woman who said she was a Lower Brule Sioux Tribe member called The Daily Republic recently and said the money would not be shared with tribal members. Instead, she was told, it would be used to pay down debts.

Protests took place at the tribal headquarters Friday and Monday, she said.

Lower Brule Chairman Michael Jandreau could not be reached for comment Monday. Officials from the other three tribes also did not answer or return calls Monday.

Hornbuckle said spending the money is a tribal issue and not something the federal government will get involved with.

"If Lower Brule tribal members want information on the settlement between the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the United States that is not included in the settlement agreement, then those members must raise the matter with their tribal government officials," he said.

This is separate from the cases involving individual trust funds, which ended with a $3.4 billion class-action settlement led by Elouise Cobell, the longtime treasurer of the Blackfeet Indian Nation of Montana. Cobell died Oct. 16, 2011, at the age of 65, from cancer, without receiving the $2 million she won as the lead plaintiff.

That case, which includes $1.5 billion to be divided among 500,000 claimants, and about $1.9 billion to buy back land and award scholarships and training grants, is nearing an end.

The tribes' lawyers, led by Dennis M. Gingold, of Washington, D.C., worked on the case for more than 15 years for no fees.

They are asking that the $99 million set by a judge as their compensation be raised to $223 million.

Source: (c)2012 The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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