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Deadline Near For Tribal Members To Claim Settlement Money

Sign saying "Welcome to Blackfeet Indian Country."
Will Marlow (CC-BY-NC-2)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — American Indian tribal members and their descendants have until Nov. 27 to ask for their share of the remainder of $3.4 billion in settlement money awarded to Native Americans after a major class-action lawsuit against the federal government.

The Cobell v. Salazar case began in 1996 when Blackfeet Nation banker Eloise Cobell claimed the Bureau of Indian Affairs had been mismanaging, squandering and stealing billions of dollars in land-lease royalties and other tribal property for a century, The Billing Gazette reported.

A settlement in the case was reached in 2009 and became U.S. law in 2011.

Ninety-five percent of the settlement money has already been handed out, according to North Carolina-based lawyer David Smith.

Under the terms of the settlement, the payout an individual is entitled to depends on the amount of money that has gone through their Individual Indian Money accounts.

The minimum amount awarded to class members is typically $2,000, Smith said. The maximum he has seen was several million dollars.

U.S. District of Columbia District Court Judge Thomas Hogan set the Nov. 27 deadline in a January order, after it was apparent that efforts to find tribe members to entitled to the award money listed as "whereabouts unknown" were no longer as successful.

"The data the government gave us for these roughly 450,000 tribal members, most had no addresses. All we had was a name and tribal affiliation," Smith said.

More than 3,000 individuals listed as "whereabouts unknown" within the tribes based in Montana's seven federally recognized reservations have yet to be located, according to the Garden City Group.

Unclaimed funds that remain after the deadline passes will be added to the Cobell Educational Scholarship Fund.

Information from: The Billings Gazette

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