American Indian plaintiffs ask gov’t for $58B in royalties suit

By Mary Clare Jalonick
Washington, D.C. (AP) 3-08

American Indian plaintiffs say the United States owes them $58 billion in a long-running lawsuit over government mismanagement of lands.

Plaintiffs in the 12-year-old lawsuit submitted the filing to federal court during March after U.S. District Judge James Robertson asked for their input.

The suit, first filed in 1996 by Blackfeet Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont., claims the government has mismanaged billions of dollars in royalties held in trust from American Indian lands dating back to 1887.

In a January decision, Robertson said Interior Department accounting for billions of dollars owed to American Indian landholders has been “unreasonably delayed” and is ultimately impossible.

At the same time, Robertson said the overall task is not hopeless, and he has set a June trial date to find a remedy for the seemingly endless legal battle. The government will have a chance to respond to the plaintiffs’ filing before the trial.

In a statement, the plaintiffs said the $58 billion number represent the accumulated savings the government has earned from dollars that should have been promptly deposited into individual Indian trust accounts.

Cobell said the $58 billion number is reasonable. Earlier estimates by the plaintiffs have had the government owing $100 billion or more.

“We believe that our numbers are very conservative and represent the minimum harm that Indians have suffered under our broken trust system,” she said.

The government proposed paying $7 billion partly to settle the Cobell lawsuit last year, but that was rejected by the plaintiffs.

Interior Department aides did not immediately return requests for comment.