Feds taking final steps to identify 17k Native Americans



FARMINGTON — The deadline to file a claim in a settlement for a class-action lawsuit centering on Indian trust assets is next week.

The settlement is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by the late Elouise Cobell, who was an enrolled member of the Blackfoot Tribe in Montana, against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Cobell, who was the lead plaintiff, sought damages for thousands of Native Americans from the federal government for inaccurate accounting for Indian trust accounts that collected payments from activities such as grazing leases, mining, and oil and gas production on trust land.

The Interior Department announced in a Nov. 17 press release it is taking the final steps to identify the whereabouts of approximately 17,000 Native Americans to provide compensation under the settlement.

The department's Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians maintains a list online for individuals whose contact information is unknown and are Individual Indian Money account holders.

Information about the list, including a search by name, by tribe or both, is available at www.doi.gov/pst/wau.

Any member of the class-action lawsuit or his or her heirs need to provide documentation for payment to the Office of the Special Trustee or to the Garden City Group, the claims administrator, by Nov. 27, the release states.

Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan set the deadline in a court order issued in January.

The order also directs that any remaining funds after distribution be transferred to the Indian Education Scholarship Fund, which was established under the settlement.

In 2009, the parties reached the $3.4 billion settlement, and Congress passed legislation to designate the amount in 2010.

The amount was divided into payments for plaintiffs and money for a land buy-back program, and to create the scholarship fund for Native American students attending college or vocational school.

The release states that class members or heirs to class members can contact the Garden City Group at 800-961-6109 or email Info@IndianTrust.com or mail to Indian Trust Settlement, P.O. Box 9577, Dublin, OH 43017-4877.

Questions about the whereabouts unknown list managed by the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians can be directed to the Indian Trust Beneficiary call center at 888-678-6836.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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