US Settles Case With Native Americans After 13 Years

BBC News, December 8, 2009

The US government has settled a long-running case over royalties owed to American Indians.

Under the deal the interior department will share $1.4bn (£859m) among 300,000 tribe members as compensation.

The tribes claim they have been cheated out of billions of dollars worth of natural resources since 1887.

The agreement ends a case which has been running for 13 years. The secretary of the interior department said it would aid reconciliation.

“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement released by the department.

Contentious case

The dispute dates back to the 1887 Dawes Act, which seized Indian land–much of it rich in natural resources–and gave it to white-owned companies to exploit.

Under the Act, the land was divided into plots and each Indian family was assigned a parcel of land, a concept alien to their culture in which all land belonged to the tribe.

The idea was for them to be “compensated” for the use of their land, however disputes arose almost immediately, perpetuated as ever smaller parcels of land were inherited by new generations.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the parties had tried to reach an agreement “many, many times”.

“But today we turn the page. This settlement is fair to the plaintiffs, responsible for the US, and provides a path forward for the future,” he said.

On its website the department for the interior said that the litigation had included hundreds of motions, dozens of rulings and appeals, and several trials.

The agreement must be approved both by Congress and a federal judge.

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