Monday, November 29, 2010


H.R. 4783, the Claims Settlement Resolution Act, is headed to the House Rules Committee after the last vote today. The Rules Committee is looking at the Senate Amendment. This bill should hit the floor early this week.

Title I pertains to Individual Indian Money Account Litigation. The original case was filed June 10, 1996. The United States lost the case, at trial and on appeal. The case is now styled Elouise Cobell et al. v. Ken Salazar. This was complex civil litigation, an opt out class action to determine declaratory and injunctive relief construing the trust obligations of the United States to members of the Plaintiff class and declaring that the United States breached and isin continuing breach of trust obligations to class members. The suit sought an order compelling Defendants to perform legally mandated obligations and requested an accounting by Department of the Interior Defendants of individual Indian trust assets. In sum this is all about the mismanagement of trust funds held for the benefit of individual Indians.

The case was complicated because during the pendency of the litigation another court ruled that certain lands were unconstitutionally escheated to the United States from Indians. Escheatment is a legal term of art. When a person dies without a will and that person has no heirs then that person's interests in real property goes to the government through escheatment.

Title II pertains to the Final Settlement of Claims from the In re Black Farmers Discrimination Litigation. This refers to the Pigford case in which it was alleged that the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against black farmers on the basis of race and failed to properly investigate or properly respond to complaints from 1983 to 1987. The settlement was announced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak in March, 2010. S. 3754 and S. 3693 are related bills for Title II.

Title III is the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification. H.R. 1065 and S. 313 are the related bill on this matter.

Title IV is the Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement. The related bills are H.R. 3563, H.R. 845, and S. 375.

Title V is the Taos Pueblo Indian Water Rights. The related bills are H.R. 3254 and S. 965.

Title VI is the AAMODT Litigation Settlement. AAMODT stands for the civil action entitled State of New Mexico, ex rel. State Engineer and United States of America, Pueblo de Nambe, Pueblo de Pojoaque, Pueblo de San Ildefonso, and Pueblo de Tesuque v. R. Lee Aamodt, et al. This is a New Mexico water rights case involving native Americans. The related bills are H.R. 3342 and S. 1105.

Title VII is the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund which was created by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, Public Law 111-11. This Title provides that the Secretary of Treasury shall transfer to the Secretary of the Interior $60,000,000 for deposit in the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund for fiscal years 2012 through 2014.

Title VIII pertains to General Provisions. Subtitle A deals with Unemployment Compensation Program Integrity. Subtitle B pertains to TANF or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Subtitle C focuses on Customs User Fees; Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset. Subtitle D regards the Emergency Fund for Indian Safety and Health. Subtitle E provides for the Rescission of Funds From WIC Program. That takes back $562,000,000 from the Women, Infants, and Children program. That's a hard thing to do.

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  1. Water Rights Settlement: Native tribes have won a battle but not the war

    While enactment of the Cobell settlement made the front page cover of many newspapers this week, the Senate action to approve a long-awaited water rights settlement four tribes in Indian Country got very little attention.

    The water rights settlement was passed by Congress on Tuesday to meet Native Americans’ needs for access to clean drinking water in tribal communities. The four settlements contained in the legislation approved by Congress on Monday refer to the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, the Crow Tribe in Montana, the Pueblos of Taos the Aamodt Settlement in New Mexico. The centerpiece of the agreement will ensure the construction of water infrastructures, rural water systems and irrigation projects.

    Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar expressed great satisfaction with the legislation. “Congress’ approval of the Cobell settlement and the four Indian water rights settlements is nothing short of historic for Indian nations,” he said.

    Native tribes are waiting for the President’s final signature of the Claims Settlement Act to celebrate the news.

    But if many tribal members see the Act as a victory, others remain hesitant to declare justice done. In many parts of Indian Country, water rights remain a contentious issue that still needs to be addressed at the tribal, local, regional and federal level.

    Water shortage, lack of access to water, drought, contamination, and water-related sickness are issues that many tribes, including the Navajo, the Onondaga, the Havasupai and the Lakota Nations (to name only a few) are struggling to overcome despite limited political attention.

    “I support these settlements and my administration is committed to addressing the water needs of tribal communities. While these legislative achievements reflect important progress, they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done,” President Obama said.

    And President Obama is right. Much work remains to be done.

    12 percent of American Indians lack regular access to clean water. And if this statistic is not compelling enough to you, take the whole population of the District of Columbia and deprive all them the use and access to clean drinkable water. Now, you get a quick picture of what 600,000 American Indian go through on an everyday basis in Indian Country.

    Isn’t it ironic to hear U.S. experts telling people in Haiti who are now confronted with the deadly epidemic of cholera that they should be drinking and using clean water, when the U.S. government itself is not even able to provide clean water at home?

    Americans wouldn’t like their country to be labeled a “Third World nation”. And with a per capita GDP of US $46,000 per year, it clearly isn’t. But if a country with such financial and technological capacities fail to provide almost one million people with what the United Nations considers to be a “human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life”, surely, something is wrong.

    We have reached a point in American politics where indigenous peoples’ rights have been overlooked that the implementation of a basic human right has to be measured in terms of the increased cost it represents for the Congressional Office. We have reached a point in American politics where indigenous peoples’ rights have been so overlooked that tribal leaders from the four designated tribes are celebrating something that should have never required years of political struggles and legal battles. Access to clean water is an inherent human right, not something that one should be fighting for.

    It took 43 years of litigation for people of the Aamodt settlement to prove this.

    On Monday, their voices were finally heard. But if the enactment of the water rights settlement marks a milestone in Native American history, it also reminds us that the road to justice for tribal people has been, is, and will be long.