Obama Signs Cobell, Water Settlements Into Law
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – President Barack Obama signed into law Wednesday the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 which provides funding for settlement of the Cobell lawsuit brought by Native Americans; the Pigford II lawsuit brought by African American farmers; and four Indian water rights suits.
“While I am pleased that this Act reflects important progress, much work remains to be done to address other claims of past discrimination made by women and Hispanic farmers against the Department of Agriculture as well as to address needs of tribal communities,” Obama said in remarks released by the White House.
Elouise Cobell, who was present for the signing ceremony, charged the Interior Department with failing to account for tens of billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans, Obama said.
“Elouise’s argument was simple: The government, as a trustee of Indian funds, should be able to account for how it handles that money. And now, after 14 years of litigation, it’s finally time to address the way that Native Americans were treated by their government. It’s finally time to make things right,” he said.
The bipartisan agreement will result in payments to those affected by the case and the establishment of a scholarship fund for Native Americans. It also will help put more land in the hands of tribes to manage for their members.
“After years of delay, this bill will provide a small measure of justice to Native Americans whose funds were held in trust by a government charged with looking out for them. And it represents a major step forward in my administration’s efforts to fulfill our responsibilities and strengthen our government-to-government relationship with the tribal nations,” the president said.
In addition, the act includes money to settle lawsuits over water rights, giving seven tribes in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico permanent access to secure water supplies year-round, he said.
The legislation resolves the Nambe-Pojoaque-Tesuque Valley litigation known as the Aamodt case, which has been unsettled for more than 40 years. It also resolves and provides funding for the Taos Pueblo water-rights claims, known as the Abeyta case, and provides direct funding of $180 million for a Navajo-Gallup pipeline, which is part of the Navajo Water Rights Settlement in New Mexico.
“The support of our New Mexico's U.S. congressional delegation helped make this funding a reality,” said New Mexico State Engineer John D'Antonio. “This is a huge achievement for the state of New Mexico as these settlements provide certainty of water rights for Indians as well as non-Indians. It also provides future economic benefits by creating jobs to build water infrastructure for critical drinking water needs.”
Obama said signing of the Claims Act wasn't simply about making amends, but about restoring a sense of trust between the American people and the government.
“Here in America, we believe that all of us are equal and that each of us deserves the chance to pursue our own version of happiness. It’s what led us to become a nation. It’s at the heart of who we are as a people. And our history is defined by the struggle to fulfill this ideal – to build a more perfect union, to ensure that all of us, regardless of our race or religion, our color or our creed, are afforded the same rights as Americans, and the fair and equal treatment under the law.
“I think all of us understand that we haven’t always lived up to those ideals. When we’ve fallen short, it’s been up to ordinary citizens to stand up to inequality and unfairness wherever they find it. That’s how we’ve made progress. That’s how we’ve moved forward. And that’s why we are here today – to sign a bill into law that closes a long and unfortunate chapter in our history,” he said.
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