12/11/2013 10:31 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2014

An Old Story: Justice Delayed for Native Americans

Nearly half a million Native Americans will finally begin receiving payments in early 2014 from settlement of a longstanding federal discrimination lawsuit. This is the second round of payments, but still more eligible class members are identified remain to be contacted.

The lawsuit, known as Cobell v. Salazar, was filed in 1996 filed by a member of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana. It stems from a mineral rights dispute with Native Americans.

The Indians' case was joined in a Congressional act with another longtime case seeking compensation for black farmers who faced discrimination in farm loans under the Department of Agriculture. The Obama administration settled both cases, resulting in $4.6 billion in awards. The black farmers' settlement was for $1.25 billion and the Cobell settlement 3.4 billion. I have read the recent news about the Second round of payments to those deserving Native American class members.

Also included in the Congressional bill, officially titled "The Claims Resolution Act of 2010" was "White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification" and the "Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement." All of these measures were attached to the black farmers' bill.

As head of the national Black Farmers Association, I spent thousands of hours pressing Congress to act on the bill. It is unfortunate that some who are walking away with the money are not the main participants in this case while Native Americans are getting a dismal portion. It shows a serious flaw in our justice system.

Some Native Americans among the class of 500,000 will receive payments of $1000 and others $800. Those payments, expected to total $1.4 billion and another $1.9 billion will be used to purchase land from those involved in air rights property or so-called Indian Trust Land. The settlement also provided $60 million for scholarships for Indian children.

According to reports about the second round of payments there are 6,000 potential recipients from the Navajo Nation who have yet to come forward and claim their settlements.

On December 2, the Garden City Group, a court-appointed third party neutral claims administrator for the Cobell settlement said checks would start going out in early 2014. Earlier, Garden City Group announced that payments would go out by the end of 2013 year. The Cobell settlement has been marked by delays similar to the black farmers' settlement.

Delays in cases such as these hurt most those innocent persons who are waiting for justice. Surely, large complicated cases like Cobell and the Black Farmers suit take much time and effort. But the effects on recipients seldom draw attention in national media outlets. Thus, recipients in the class are left at the mercy of those who see no urgency to act swiftly.

In addition to the troubling delays in payments, Native American groups have issued alerts warning of scam artists who are poised to target recipients of the funds with costly loans and false investments.

We must continue to push those who are road blocks for justice. I'll bet if the third party neutrals in these cases were not being compensated for their time they would speed up the process so they could collect on their bills. Pay the Native Americans, America's first people.

For more details on this issue, see my earlier writings: