US: $3B to end royalty dispute with Indian tribes

12/09/2009 07:08 AM

By Matthew DalyAssociated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed spending more than $3 billion to settle claims dating back more than a century that American Indian tribes were swindled out of royalties for oil, gas, grazing and other leases.

Under an agreement announced Tuesday, the Interior Department would distribute $1.4 billion to more than 300,000 Indian tribe members to compensate them for historical accounting claims, and to resolve future claims. The government also would spend $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land broken up in previous generations. The program would allow individual tribe members to obtain cash payments for land interests divided among numerous family members and return the land to tribal control.

The settlement also would create a scholarship account of up to $60 million for tribal members to attend college or vocational school.

If cleared by Congress and a federal judge, the settlement would be the largest Indian claim ever approved against the U.S. government — exceeding the combined total of all previous settlements of Indian claims.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that the Indian plaintiffs are entitled to $455 million, a fraction of the $47 billion or more the tribes have said they are owed for leases that have been overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

President Barack Obama said settlement of the case, known as Cobell v. Salazar, was an important step to reconcile decades of acrimony between Indian tribes and the federal government.

"As a candidate, I heard from many in Indian Country that the Cobell suit remained a stain on the nation-to-nation relationship I value so much," Obama said Tuesday in a written statement. "I pledged my commitment to resolving this issue, and I am proud that my administration has taken this step today."

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called settlement of the 13-year-old case a top priority for him and Obama and said the administration worked for many months to reach a settlement that is both honorable and responsible.

"This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country," Salazar said.

Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the case, called the proposed settlement crucial for hundreds of thousand of Native Americans who have suffered for more than a century through mismanagement of the Indian trust.

"Today is a monumental day for all of the people in Indian Country that have waited so long for justice," said Cobell, who appeared at a news conference Tuesday with Salazar, Attorney General Eric Holder and other U.S. officials.

"Did we get all the money that was due us? Probably not," Cobell said, but added: "There's too many individual Indian beneficiaries that are dying every single day without their money."

The proposed settlement affects tribes across the country, including virtually every recognized tribe west of the Mississippi River. Tribes in North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Montana are especially affected by the breakup of Indian land into small parcels, said Keith Harper, a lawyer who represents the plaintiffs.

The settlement would give every Indian tribe member with an Interior Department account an immediate check for $1,000, with additional payments to be determined later under a complicated formula that takes into account a variety of factors. Many tribe members also would receive payments for parcels of land that are held in some cases by up to 100 family members, in an effort to consolidate tribal land and make it more useful and easier to manage.

The settlement does not include a formal apology for any wrongdoing by the U.S. government, but does contain language in which U.S. officials acknowledge a "breach of trust" on Indian land issues.

An apology "would have been nice," Cobell said, but was less important than settling the dispute. "Actions are more important to me than apologies," she said.


10/31/2014 08:17 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The National Indian Gaming Commission recently sent a letter to Principal Chief Bill John Baker approving the amendment to the tribe’s Gaming Commission Act, but noted it likely will come with greater federal scrutiny. According to the letter from Acting Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, the NIGC approved amendments to the act that differentiate between gaming and non-gaming activities, provide Tribal Council representation on the Cherokee Nation Gaming Commission and limits the CNGC by mandating that its regulations not exceed minimum federal standards. “The gaming act is approved to the extent it is consistent with the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and NIGC regulation. “However, I am compelled to note my misgivings over some aspects of the gaming act. In particular, the provision of the gaming act that requires tribal regulations and controls not exceed the federal controls undermines the spirit of the NIGC regulations … which are designed to be the ground floor of regulations upon which a tribe could build up from to address its specific requirements. “Further, implementing this provision of the gaming act may be difficult because Tribal regulators may struggle with determining what would ‘exceed’ the NIGC (minimum controls). Because of the potential implementation difficulties that may result from the gaming act’s lack of specificity, the NIGC will likely need to review the Tribe’s gaming operations with greater scrutiny,” the letter states. Christina Thomas, NIGC acting chief of staff, said the NIGC didn’t foresee the implementation of the ordinance being an efficient process. “We anticipate having to be more involved on the ground with the tribe to ensure that the gaming integrity is still protected. There’s going to be a significant amount of confusion at the tribal level implementing that particular provision of gaming ordinance.” In April, Tribal Councilors limited the CNGC’s regulatory powers over Cherokee Nation Entertainment operations with LA 07-14. It passed with Tribal Councilors Don Garvin, Harley Buzzard, Dick Lay, Cara Cowan Watts, Lee Keener, Julia Coates and Jack Baker voting against it. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor abstained. In June, the Tribal Council made technical changes to the Gaming Commission Act with LA 17-14. That act passed 16-1 with Lay voting against it. Baker signed both acts into law but the amendments didn’t take effect until they received the NIGC approval on Oct. 27. CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the NIGC approval affirmed the tribe’s ability to self-govern. “We are pleased that body recognizes our inherent right to self-regulate. We are confident these amendments passed by our Cherokee Nation Tribal Council will allow our businesses to remain the industry leader in a gaming market that is becoming more and more competitive, all while adhering to strict common sense regulations,” he said. “We are confident that as we move forward the council will continue work with the administration, CNGC and CNB (Cherokee Nation Businesses) on any further modifications to the gaming code that might be warranted. That type of collaborative process is at the heart of tribal self-governance.” Tribal Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, who co-sponsored the amendment with Tribal Councilor David Thornton, said the council revised the act to better suit the tribe’s needs. “I’m pleased to be a sponsor along with David Thornton of the amendments and I’m proud that the NIGC approved them,” she said. “These amendments require our business to meet the strict requirements of federal law while also placing us on a level playing field with our competitors. This is the most competitive market right now in Oklahoma.” However, Keener said the tribe limited its sovereignty in favor of federal control and state agreements. “This is the first time in Cherokee Nation history the chief and majority of the council have ever voted to limit its own authority regarding tribal gaming in favor of federal regulations and state compact agreements,” Keener said. “If we decline to govern ourselves, we are taking a huge step backwards. Voting against ourselves makes no sense which is the reason I voted no.” Before the amendment, the CNGC regulated all gaming operations, including auditing, to ensure compliance with the act and any regulations adopted by the CNGC. The CNGC also enforces any gaming-related compacts with the state. “Our gaming facilities take CNGC’s regulations very seriously, and have always followed those regulations to the letter,” Shawn Slaton, interim CNB CEO, said. “We will continue to follow, as we have in the past, the laws, rules and regulations of the Cherokee Nation and its commissions. Any changes to the law will not change our adherence to the standards set forth by the CNGC.” According to the tribe’s fiscal year 2013 audit, CNB gave $44.1 million to the tribe in dividends in FY 2013. Thomas said the CN is the first tribe to change from following its own Tribal Internal Control Standards, or TICS, to only following federal Minimum Internal Control Standards, or MICS. Tribes develop TICS to suit its gaming needs and regulations. “As I understand it, we would not be allowed to do anything in excess of what’s required under the MICS,” CNGC Chairwoman Stacy Leeds said. “This is not something that we can just immediately enact tomorrow because there are three or four or five steps that have to get worked out. So certainly the first order of business is to get some advice on the Attorney General’s Office about what their interpretation is of certain things that will change under this.” Leeds said one of the biggest changes would be determining which employees would need gaming licenses. “There are a lot of things that will have to be asked as we’re implementing this like exactly which employees are gaming versus nongaming, and is there a difference at one facility over the other based on access to cash and access to systems and those kinds of things,” she said. Under the previous act, the CNGC could audit or review financial records to ensure proper accountability. Under the amended act, it can only audit or review financial records directly related to gaming activities. Both versions of the act state the CNGC “shall have immediate, unfettered access to all areas of a gaming facility to review, inspect, examine, photocopy and/or audit all records of the gaming facility.” “That’s our law now, it’s been approved by NIGC and we will follow it,” Leeds said. Leeds said the CNGC has reached out to Attorney General Todd Hembree to schedule a meeting and all the gaming commissioners have been forwarded a copy of the letter. Leeds said the CNGC expressed concerns when the legislation was under Tribal Council consideration. “There was never a formal testimony by me or the commission as a whole, but I think that when it was being considered some of the concerns were being expressed in the meetings. But it’s ultimately up to the council to decide,” she said. Coates said the tribe is rolling back the regulatory authority it has assumed over operations, placing the tribe at the same level as other tribes that have issues around their gaming operations. “It goes against the grain of national trends among tribes to assert greater degrees of sovereignty. We thus find ourselves in the very unusual position of having a federal commission actually imploring us to assert greater sovereignty, and warning us that if we do not, they may be forced to assume it on our behalf. This is a dangerous precedent and not one we want to be setting.” Fishinghawk said she would welcome the NIGC because she trusts how CNB is running its operations. “The guys up there have run it for years. They have done wonderful. They’ve made the tribe money. They’ve never gotten into trouble for how they run it,” she said. “Until somebody shows me any different, I do trust them to run it. These amendments are helping us assert tribal sovereignty.” <strong>Past Dividends to Cherokee Nation</strong> Fiscal Year: Total Dividend – Net Profit Percentage 2013: $44.1 million – 35 percent 2012: $56.8 million – 35 percent 2011: $30 million – 30 percent 2010: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2009: $26.4 million – 30 percent 2008: $35 million – 30 percent 2007: $33.6 million – 30 percent 2006: $25.4 million– 30 percent 2005: $17.9 million – 25 percent 2004: $11.7 million – 25 percent <strong>Source:</strong> Cherokee Nation final audits In January 2006, the dividend was increased to 30 percent of net income, which was four months into fiscal year 2006.
10/30/2014 04:17 PM
NEWNAN, Ga. – The next meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 1 at the Old Newnan train depot. The speaker will be former Georgia TOTA President Jeff Bishop, who will be speaking about the Creek Indians who lived in that area of Georgia. Newnan is located near the McIntosh Reserve named after the famous Creek Headman William McIntosh, born of a Scottish father and Creek mother. The park contains land that was once the primary residence of McIntosh. In February 1825 he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which ceded all of the lower Creek land in Georgia to the federal government. The vast majority of Creeks were opposed to the land cession and selling Creek land without the approval of the Creek Council was illegal and punishable by death. In May of 1825 McIntosh was killed in retaliation for his actions. The Trail of Tears Association was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee, Creek and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Cherokees were the last to be removed although there were Creek Indians living in north Georgia among the Cherokee at the time of removal in 1838. TOTA meetings are free and open to the public. For more information about the TOTA, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. For questions about the November meeting, email Tony Harris at <a href="mailto:"></a>. Directions to the Old Newnan train depot: Take I-85 south and get off at Exit 47. Go west (turn right) towards Newnan – this is Bullsboro Drive (Hwy. 34). Go 4 to 5 miles to Newnan. When you get to Oak Hill cemetery, turn right on Clark and an immediate left on Jackson. Go to Court Square and turn left onto East Broad Street. This will take you to the Historic Depot at 60 East Broad Street.
10/30/2014 10:31 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Northeastern State University’s Center for Tribal Studies will have a Halloween event for children of all ages on Oct. 31. The “Halloween Party” will have trick or treating from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. there will be games, refreshments and costume contests. The costume contests will award the scariest, funniest and most original costume. The event is sponsored by NSU Native Student Organizations. The Halloween Party will take place at the Bacone House at 320 Academy St. For more information, call 918-444-4350.
10/28/2014 01:34 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – To help with the construction a splash pad, the Cherokee Nation donated nearly $40,000 to the City of Stilwell. “We are all one big community, and it means a lot to us for the Cherokee Nation to work with us on this project,” Stilwell Mayor Ronnie Trentham said. “The things we want to do as a city we couldn’t do alone, so the partnerships between us and the tribe and other groups are needed. We are a better community because we work together.” The splash pad will be located at the Edna M. Carson Stilwell Community Park. City officials expect the project, totaling $464,000, to be completed by May 2015. “Stilwell has always been a hub of Cherokee activity because we have so many citizens living there and working there at our Cherokee Nation Industries facility,” said Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This represents a good investment for the Cherokee Nation, as it enables the community and its leaders to expand the infrastructure and deliver more offerings for people.”
Senior Reporter
10/27/2014 08:28 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Two Cherokee Nation citizens have produced a 2015 calendar titled “Birds of the Cherokee Nation” that has photographs of area birds and their Cherokee names in the Cherokee syllabary. Jeff Davis, of Warner, and David Cornsilk, of Tahlequah, collaborated on the calendar. Cornsilk researched the Cherokee names for the birds and Davis provided the photographs. Each bird in the calendar can be found in the Cherokee Nation, Davis said. “I take a lot of photographs, and birds are some of my favorite subjects because I descend from the Bird Clan. I thought about doing one initially, and then David approached me about doing one, and we wanted to do it in Cherokee,” Davis, who is also an artist and direct descendant of Principal Chief John Ross, said. “The reason we wanted to do Cherokee is to not only be different, but to also help promote the language and help people learn the language.” Cornsilk said he used to live in Kenwood in Delaware County, which is known for being a traditional Cherokee community, and would listen to the Cherokee speakers there talk about birds and the meaning of the birds’ names. “Something I noticed was a lot of the older speakers they knew a lot of birds’ (names), and the younger speakers didn’t know very many. So it was something, I guess, that was fading out of the language, and so I started collecting the names of birds in Cherokee,” he said. “I always thought I’d publish a book, but then I thought a calendar would be a lot of fun.” He said because Cherokee speakers and others learning the language don’t regularly use the names of birds, plants and animals, the words are in danger of being forgotten. Davis said many Cherokee speakers just use the word jee-squa, which means bird, for every bird. Cornsilk said after he met Davis he learned about Davis’ love of birds and his photographs of local birds. So they decided to work together to produce the calendar. Each bird in the calendar has a Cherokee syllabary and English phonetic name. Each bird photo also has a brief explanation of what the bird means to the Cherokee and other stories about each bird. On the calendar’s back cover is a copy of the Cherokee syllabary to help people translate the bird names and the names of the months in Cherokee listed with the photos. Also included in the calendar is a list of moons associated with each month and what Cherokee beliefs are associated with each moon. Cornsilk credits the list of what the moons meant to Cherokees to William Eubanks, a Cherokee translator in the 1890s. Also, Cherokee linguist Lawrence Panther translated the calendar name. Davis said if the calendar is successful, he and Cornsilk might publish a second calendar next year because he has many more bird photos and Cornsilk, who has been collecting Cherokee names for plants and animals for about 30 years, has more Cherokee names for birds. He added the men have also had requests to do a calendar with plants used by Cherokee people for medicine and may do one with Cherokee names for trees using Davis’ photos. Davis and Cornsilk said they might also produce flash cards with birds, plants and trees. The calendars are available for $10 at the Cherokee Nation Gift Shop and the Spider Gallery in Tahlequah. By mail order, the price is $12.95 each, which includes shipping. PayPal or postal money orders are accepted. For PayPal send payment to:, and to mail payment, send to: J. Davis, P.O. Box 492, Warner OK 74469. “I think our main purpose was to preserve a portion of the Cherokee language that seemed to be make a contribution to the efforts the tribe is making and individual Cherokees are making as well (to preserve the language),” Cornsilk said. Davis said the response to the calendar has been positive. “People not only love the pictures but also learn how to pronounce the words. I’ve had several mothers tell me that they are teaching their children words from this, which is really what we wanted...something educational and beautiful,” he said.
Senior Reporter
10/23/2014 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The North American Indian Court Judges Association recently honored Cherokee Nation District Court Clerk Kristi Moncooyea for her work with the court. Moncooyea, who received the “Court Support Excellence Award,” has served as the only clerk for the District Court for the past 10 years and is “the amiable face that greets everyone who comes to the Cherokee Nation District Court,” a NAICJA statement reads. “Handling the workload of at least three or four clerks all by herself, she handles the extraordinary caseload with great energy and resourcefulness,” the statement reads. “In addition to maintaining the court’s docket and case files, she answers the phone and patiently deals with attorneys, parties, law enforcement officers, and community members on a daily basis.” Moncooyea, who is a CN citizen, said it is “very humbling” to be recognized by the NAICJA. “I consider it an honor and privilege to work in the Cherokee Nation judicial system providing assistance to our Cherokee citizens as well as the general public who require services of the court,” Moncooyea said. “I share this award with the awesome court staff I work with daily who are always there to assist and help make the courthouse a friendly place to come to.” District Court Judge John T. Cripps said Moncooyea is “a role model and inspiration” for tribal court personnel who are often challenged to do a great deal with very little assistance or resources. “She is always courteous and respectful. I can find no one who does not appreciate her work and her abilities. She is the epitome of what a tribal employee should exemplify,” Cripps said. Moncooyea is the first to receive the “Court Support Excellence Award,” from NAICJA.