Sen. Max Baucus' office announced late this afternoon that the U.S. Senate has unanimously approved the $3.4 billion settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, the 15-year-old class action lawsuit that sought reimbursement for federal mismanagement of Individual Indian Money accounts. The case was settled early last December, but has experienced repeated hang-ups on the path to congressional approval this year. The Senate's vote today will ultimately benefit more than 300,000 Native Americans nationwide.
“For too long, our American Indian brothers and sisters have waited for a resolution to an embarrassing example of government irresponsibility,” Baucus said in his release. “Now it’s time to keep fighting for good paying jobs and investment in education in Indian Country.”
Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and founder of the Native American Community Development Corporation in Browning, spent much of 2010 negotiating with various congressmen in Washington, D.C., in a desperate attempt to see the settlement passed. Had the Senate not approved it in the current lame-duck session, the case would have returned to litigation in early 2011.
“I want to thank Senators Baucus and Tester for leading the fight in the Senate to provide a long-overdue conclusion to this settlement," Cobell stated in Baucus' release. "Too many Native Americans have died waiting for justice. My greatest optimism lies ahead hoping that today’s news gives way to permanent reform in the way the Departments of Interior and Treasury account for and manage Individual Indian Money accounts.”