Cobell Suit Stalled in Congress - Young Native Pride Performance
By LEDYARD KING
Tribune Washington Bureau
Submitted by Monica Davis
WASHINGTON — With great fanfare, the Obama administration in December hailed the settlement of a long-running class-action lawsuit by Native Americans over the federal mismanagement of trust money from mineral and grazing rights on tribal lands.
Months later the deal remains in limbo, idled by a Congress that so far has been reluctant to approve the $3.4 billion called for under the settlement because it's trying to figure how to come up with the money.
"I'm very disappointed that it's taken this long," said Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. "The negotiations were very hard, very difficult, and I felt that once we had a legal settlement between both parties, we were pretty much done. All we had to do is get it reaffirmed by Congress, who has been beating on me forever, saying, 'Settle this.' Finally, we bring them a settlement that both parties have agreed upon, and then we don't get any action."
The settlement would provide $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 Native Americans scattered mostly west of the Mississippi River, with each receiving at least $1,000. The government also would spend up to $2 billion to buy small parcels of reservation land held by multiple owners. Those properties are expensive to manage and do not generate much income. The land then would be turned over to the tribe. In addition, the agreement calls for the creation of a committee to evaluate ongoing tribal trust issues.
Cobell and her lawyers have traveled the country, meeting with Native Americans to explain the terms of the settlement and address concerns of exorbitant lawyers' fees, meager payouts to victims and a lack of overall transparency.
Richard Monette, a University of Wisconsin law professor and former chairman of the North Dakota-based Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, told lawmakers last month that the deal between Cobell and the government improperly seeks to settle claims it has no authority to resolve, adding the settlement could take away the rights of some Native Americans to sue in the future.
He accused the government and Cobell of collusion for not doing nearly enough to tell Native Americans what their legal rights are and what's at stake for them — an allegation Cobell rejects.
The settlement "is a divisive issue right now in Indian Country because there are people who simply don't understand what the real issues are," said Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians. Keel said he personally supports the settlement, but his organization has not taken an official position on the matter.
"The consensus that I'm hearing across the state is that people would like more information," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat who talked to several tribes in her state. "They still (want) answers. They don't necessarily want all of this to be rushed."
Time may be running out, according to the federal judge presiding over the case. He already has granted two extensions — and said that if Congress doesn't approve the money by mid-May, he's ready to convene a public hearing so Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and key members of Congress can explain the holdup.
"The need for Congress to act is real," U.S. District Judge James Robertson said during an April 8 hearing. "Until or unless Congress acts, the lawyers who have devoted themselves to this case for 15 years on both sides are on hold, and, more importantly, all of Indian Country is on hold. And I don't want to be too melodramatic about this, but justice is on hold."
It's unclear what would happen if Congress doesn't act by Robertson's deadline, but Cobell said she would be tempted to appeal to the Supreme Court in that case.
Many lawmakers are ready to approve the payouts, which would come out of a settlement fund controlled by the Justice Department. However, there's disagreement over whether Congress should offset the cost by cutting other programs or raising revenues.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who chairs the Indian Affairs Committee, said he doesn't think there's a need to replace that money by making other adjustments.
"My view is that since it comes out of a settlement fund, it doesn't need to be offset," he said. "We need to get this done. I never thought it was going to be a slam dunk, but I'm surprised that it's not getting done."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who has been working with Cobell, wants a settlement approved soon, but said the costs must be offset.
"It needs to be paid for," he said.
After more than a decade of waiting, Cobell said she is optimistic Congress will approve the settlement, but she noted that the latest delay has added to a frustrating journey.
"This is our own money we're trying to get back," she said.
Public Invited To 13th Annual Young Native Pride Performance
By Tessa Lehto
THURSDAY. MAY 13TH, 2010,
PRIOR LAKE HIGH SCHOOL
Prior Lake, MN – Wearing handmade regalia and dancing to the songs of the Little Six Drum Group, SMSC and area youth will celebrate Dakota culture, traditions, and spirituality with a free dance exhibition and art show. The evening performance, open to the general public, begins at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, 2010, at the Prior Lake High School auditorium. An earlier, afternoon performance will be presented for students.
This year the performance will honor another element: Mni [m-nee], the Dakota word for water, in stage design and with a special dance.
Young Native Pride, designed to instill pride and respect for Native American values and culture, involves children from kindergarten through 12th grade. This year participating students attend school at the SMSC Education Department- Home School along with Prior Lake, Savage, Shakopee, New Prague, Belle Plaine, Bloomington, and Hopkins public and private schools. The Little Six Drum Group consists of adults and youth primarily from the SMSC.
The parents and families of the students have worked throughout the school year as a large family Tiospaye [tee-osh-peye] preparing for the annual Young Native Pride event. They have helped the dancers put together beautiful Dakota dance regalia consisting of beadwork, appliqué, ribbon work, moccasins, bustles, shawls, and more. The regalia worn by the dancers have personal and symbolic meaning to each individual. Dance styles to be featured are fancy feather, fancy shawl, traditional, grass, and jingle. Audience members are invited to participate in a round dance to conclude the event.
“We expect to have more than 50 young people participate in this year’s performance,” said SMSC Vice-Chairman Glynn A. Crooks. “We are very proud of our Community youth who demonstrate great pride in their heritage through their participation in this program.”
Each performance will begin with a prayer followed by a Grand Entry where the dancers enter in a procession behind the flags and eagle feather staffs. Typically a member of the SMSC Business Council extends a brief welcome to the crowd. A narrator will describe the various dance styles.
Prior Lake High School is located at 7575 150th Street West in Savage, Minnesota 55378. Refreshments will be served following the 7:00 p.m. performance.
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