The Cobell Settlement, as it has come to be known, started out as an effort by a great woman named Eloise Cobell, to right the wrongs inflicted upon Native Americans for more than 300 years. The manipulations of assets by the United States government when calculated correctly amounted to billions of dollars.
The original purpose of the Cobell lawsuit was to recoup a portion of the money stolen by hook and crook from the Indian people. Eventually the non-Indian lawyers with their fingers in the pie were willing to settle for about 10 percent of what the original suit demanded. Before a dime was paid out to the Indian people, they got their cut of the booty.
Some of the stipulations of the settlement still anger many of us. For example, how did the lawyers determine that $1.9 billion should go back to the Department of the Interior to buy-back the land on the Indian reservations that was fractionated by the incompetence of the Bureau of Indian Affairs? That is like giving money back to the people who created the problem. Can you imagine what that $1.9 billion could have meant to the very people for whom it was intended?
During the early research days of the lawsuit boxes of records were found in warehouses, garages and basements, records that should have proven a near exact dollar figure of the money stolen from the Indian people. It would have taken many years for all of the research to be completed for an exact money figure of the theft to be deduced. The Cobell lawyers didn't have the patience and sadly, many Indian people didn't have the patience to see the suit taken to a just conclusion. The rush to judgment was on and billions of dollars were written off. Centuries of malfeasance, theft and subterfuge against the Indian people that amounted into billions of dollars more than the pittance that was eventually paid out were lost forever. Once the Indian people accepted one penny of the settlement the law closed the doors forever on the rights of the Indian people to pursue justice to it final determination.
To the very end the cover up by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs held as true today as it had for the centuries leading up to the lawsuit. Records were deliberately destroyed that held evidence of the theft of land, timber, oil and other natural resources. Just the gold taken from Indian lands, particularly in the Black Hills of South Dakota, amounted to billions of dollars.
The pittance most Native Americans received at the beginning wasn't even enough to buy a rusted-out used car. And tell us this, after all of the years that passed while the Interior Department could have been figuring out a method and a purpose about the initial payments, why did they have to divide it into two payments thereby greatly diminishing the amount of the payment checks?
And now the payment system has gone berserk. Money that was supposed to be paid out by March has now been extended to December. With all of the computers and the amount of money already invested in the bureaucrats responsible for the payments, they can't even figure out a way to pay out the money. One poor excuse is that they can't find many of the people they owe the money to or they cannot determine their eligibility. Say what? Native Sun News offered to publish a complete list of all the individuals who were owed money and they refused to let us do it. And now, in their inimitable way they are frantically trying pin the tail on the donkey.
Every Native American in this country should be burning with anger over the total incompetence of the United State government for this latest screw up. This shabby treatment of Indians has been going on for centuries and some of us actually had the idea that maybe things had changed. Well, they haven't and as is always the case, the American Indian is the loser.
Eloise Cobell is probably spinning in her grave.
Tim Giago is editor and publisher of Native Sun News and is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org