It’s a rare day when the Indians win. Late last year a multi-billion dollar settlement was announced in the class action lawsuit Cobell v. Salazar. When it is finalized, at least 500,000 Native Americans will benefit financially, and many tribes will have the opportunity to consolidate land within their reservation boundaries.
The issues in the case date back to the very beginnings of U.S. settlement. From the perspective of many Native Americans, the history of the U.S. is little more than a series of land grabs from tribal peoples. In 1887, after having established tribal reservations and negotiated with native leadership, U.S. lawmakers thought it best to encourage Indians to integrate into American culture.
One way they did that was to divide the tribal reservations into small parcels of land and “allot” those parcels to individual Indians.
The idea was to promote the European value of individual ownership over the tribal tradition of communal use of the land. Once alloted, those individual parcels were held “in trust” by the government because it was thought the Native people needed help to manage their lands. And, according to Elousie Cobell, who brought suit against the U.S. government, those trusts were egregiously mismanaged, and with the settlement hundreds of thousands of Indians have money coming to them. Some critics say it may not be nearly enough.
Do you live on a reservation? Do own a parcel of land managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? Do you lease such land? Do you own a piece of land that used to belong to a Native American tribe? What do you think restitution to Native Americans in this lawsuit should look like?
- Elouise Cobell: Lead plaintiff in Cobell v. Salazar
- Dave Tovey: Economic development director at the Siletz Tribal Business Corporation
- Antone Minthorn: Past chairman of the Umatilla Tribes
- William Martin: President of the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska