'Broken Promises': Documentary on Cobell's 25 -Year Fight For Native Justice
By Tessa Lehto
Monday. September 20. 2010
Prior Lake, MN – The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community announces a grant for $50,000 to support a documentary about the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed against the United States government. Broken Promises: Indian Trust is the story of a 25-year fight for justice led by Blackfeet Nation member Elouise Cobell, who grew up hearing the stories of missing checks and dwindling funds from Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holders.
The individual Indian trust accounts held by the U.S. Government relate to land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water, and other resources and rights on or under individual Indian lands.
SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks commented on the film, “This is an important story to be told. It clearly illustrates the nature of the historic relationship between the federal government and Indian people. We felt it was important to support this project to show our solidarity with our Indian relatives and to help educate the public on a significant part of American history.”
For 118 years the Department of Interior failed to live up to the trust placed in them by engaging in a “shocking pattern of deception,” according to Federal Judge Royce Lamberth who oversaw the case for many years. Billions of dollars belonging to some of the most impoverished people in America remain unaccounted for.
The Film Broken Promises: Indian Trust is a film about the relationship between the United States government and American Indians. This relationship began in 1887 when the United States government broke up Indian reservations, parceled out millions of acres of land to American Indian families, and promised to manage the land.
They established the Indian Trust Fund to oversee the revenues collected from leases of the land. Checks for these revenues were sent out periodically to tribal land holders but an accurate accounting of those funds has never been available.
Fire in the Belly Productions, a privately owned California corporation behind the project, produces independent, feature length documentary films. Producer/director of Broken Promises is Fire in the Belly founder Melinda Janko. High profile supporters of the project include Robert Redford, former Senator Tom Daschle, and the Native American Rights Fund.
Janko wrote, “Throughout my film making career, I have always been attracted to stories about the triumph of the human spirit, and people overcoming the odds. So when I went looking for a story in March 2002, I looked for one that would inspire, make a difference, and maybe even change the way we see the world. What I found was a story that has its roots in the 19th century but still continues today. Some call it the ‘Enron of the U.S. government.’ The truth is --- it is bigger than Enron! This little known story has evolved into Broken Promises: Indian Trust.”
She continued, “During my research and investigation, it was shocking to find that most Americans do not know about the largest class action lawsuit ever brought against the federal government. How can billions of dollars belonging to one of the most impoverished people in America be unaccounted for and not be front page news?”
The CaseOn June 10, 1996, Indian plaintiffs including Elouise P. Cobell, Mildred Cleghorn, Thomas Maulson, and James Louis Larose, filed a class action lawsuit against the federal government for its failure to properly manage Indian trust assets − monies belonging to individual Indians − on behalf of all present and past individual Indian trust beneficiaries, including over 300,000 current IIM account holders. The named defendants are the Secretaries of the Interior and Treasury and the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs.
This matter has been pursued under four specific defendant names, depending upon the individuals heading the Departments of Interior and Treasury in successive presidential administrations from 1996-2010, including Cobell v. Babbitt, Cobell v. Norton, and Cobell v. Kempthorne. The current case is Cobell v. Salazar.
The Plaintiff class challenged the government's longstanding failure to account for individual Indian trust funds. It asserted that the federal government had breached its legally-mandated trust responsibility to prudently manage trust assets belonging to individual Indian trust beneficiaries.
It further claimed the government consistently refused to fix an accounting system that is fundamentally flawed and ineffective in accounting for these assets, with the result that billions of dollars belonging to individual Indians remain unaccounted for.
The Plaintiffs’ two objectives are 1) To require the federal government to create and maintain an adequate system to properly manage and accurately account for the trust assets of individual Indians, going forward and 2) To require the federal government to provide a full and accurate accounting to individual Indian trust beneficiaries, and to restate IIM account balances accordingly.
About the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community The SMSC utilizes its financial resources from gaming and non-gaming enterprises to pay for the internal infrastructure of the Tribe, including but not limited to roads, water and sewer systems, emergency services, and essential services to its Tribal members in education, health, and welfare.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community has a charitable giving program which comes from a cultural and social tradition to assist those in need.
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