Federal Government Paying Nearly $1 Billion To Settle Claims With Native Americans

| by Ethan Brown
Native Americans.Native Americans.

The Obama administration will pay $940 million to groups of Native American tribes over previous government contracts that allowed the feds to work on Indian reservations in exchange for compensation.

The settlement was announced Sept. 17 by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and officials within the U.S. Justice Department. Leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Zuni Pueblo and Ramah Chapter of the Navajo Nation were also at the press conference, Al Jazeera America reported.

The payout of $940 million is the latest in a series of court cases and settlements between the government and Native American tribes. A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling favored the tribes in the decades-long battle over how much money the government still owed the tribal groups, The Associated Press noted.

“This landmark settlement represents another important step in the Obama Administration’s efforts to turn the page on past challenges in our government-to-government relationship with tribes,” Jewell said in a press release. “Tribal self-determination and self-governance will continue to be our North Star as we navigate a new chapter in this important relationship, and we are committed to fully funding contract support costs so that tribal contracting can be more successful.”

She added: “Today’s announcement resolves past claims and allows money wrapped up in litigation to be used more productively.” 

The first lawsuit was filed 25 years ago in a New Mexico Federal District Court. After losing the case, the tribes then filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor based on a law from 1975.

The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act shifted responsibility to tribal groups to oversee programs that the federal government previously provided to the groups. The federal government would also be required to pay for the programs, which included road repairs, maintaining law enforcement levels, and housing and education.

A 1988 law passed by Congress required the groups to negotiate their already existing contracts with the government. Six years later, another law was passed that placed a cap at the amount of money that could be paid to the groups annually.

Jewell stated that the case will officially be resolved next year if there are not appeals from either side to hold up the process. According to an attorney representing one of the tribes, the groups may receive monetary benefits one month after filing their claims.

Due to a previous claim of being denied funds for more than a decade, the Navajo Nation will gain around $58 million, while other tribes could be paid up to $8,000 per year.

Sources: Al Jazeera America, AP / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Cullen328