The U.S. government has agreed to pay $492 million to 17 Native American tribes to settle lawsuits over the mismanagement of monetary assets and natural resources.
“These historical grievances were a barrier to our shared progress toward a brighter future,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a press release from the Department of Justice on Sept. 26. “With today’s announcement, those barriers have been removed and decades of contention have been ended honorably and fairly."
Lynch continued: “These settlements reflect the shared vision, the mutual respect and the enduring partnership that we hope to achieve between tribes and the federal government and I look forward to all that we will achieve together in the days to come.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said the decision will work towards fixing past actions by the U.S. government that have negatively impacted Native American people.
“Settling these long-standing disputes reflects the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to reconciliation and empowerment for Indian Country,” Jewell said. “As we turn the page on past challenges in our government-to-government relationship with tribes, we’re moving forward with tribal governments to ensure proper management of tribal trust assets. I commend the Department of Justice, our Interior Solicitors, tribal leaders and other key officials for recognizing the importance of communication and mutual respect, opening a new era of trust between the United States Government and tribal governments.”
"The government bought the land from Indians, but it didn't pay the Indians," explained Melody McCoy, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund who has spent 20 years, handling lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of Native American tribes, according to NPR.
"The U.S. government would say it held the assets in trusts benevolently, for the protection of Indian lands and money," McCoy continued. "The flip side of that is that in exchange, the government was supposed to be a good trustee, and it wasn't. Land was not managed well. Money and resources were not managed well."
The nearly half a billion dollar settlement isn't the most the Obama administration has agreed to pay Native American tribes.
In 2009, a $3.4 billion settlement was reached to pay for land that had been seized by the federal government, which then failed to pay adequate compensation, according to NPR.