CN could receive millions via Supreme Court ruling
6/22/2012 7:46:11 AM
BY JAMI CUSTER
Reporter

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation could get back approximately $40 million thanks to a June 18 U.S. Supreme Court ruling calling for the federal government to fully reimburse Native American tribes for monies spent on their respective federal programs.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter that the federal government did not honor its contractual promises to tribes and provided insufficient funding for contracts and contract support costs from self-governance agreements. 

The federal government had initially agreed to fully fund those contracts, but Congress placed a cap on the money earmarked for payments. 

The Ramah Navajo Chapter sued the Department of Interior and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver initially ruled the money must be fully reimbursed. The government appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled the Ramah Navajo Chapter and other Native American tribes must get their money back.

The ruling ends any claims that government agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs are no longer liable for paying contracts if there is not enough money available. 

Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act, tribes can contract to provide services that would otherwise be provided by the federal government, such as law enforcement, agricultural assistance and education.

As per the ruling, the federal government is now expected to reimburse tribes – including the Cherokee Nation – for tribal dollars used to make up that shortfall from 1994 to 2001.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker called the ruling a “tremendous victory for the Cherokee Nation.”

“We will be able to recover millions of dollars that has been denied our government through decades of underfunding,” Baker said. “This money will be used to support every facet of our government and will allow us to provide much-needed services to our people.”

The estimate of reimbursement for the tribe is approximately $35 to $40 million, Baker said, “mindful, that this includes IHS (Indian Health Service) claims that are involved in companion cases involving the same facts scenario.”

In 2005, the Supreme Court issued a similar ruling against IHS that resulted in several tribes collecting damages, including a $20 million payment to the Cherokee Nation. 

Currently, the tribe is compiling documentation to show the total amount under recovery and to be sure that CN is made “whole from previous years.”

Baker said at this time there is not an expected date on reimbursement because of the many tribes involved, but a victory like this has been rare in the past.

“This was a long process and I appreciate the hard work our staff has committed to this project,” he added. “I also want to thank the council for their support of this and other matters, as we assert our rights.”

jami-custer@cherokee.org

918-453-5560

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