Tribal Members Seek Answers About $3.4 Billion Settlement

Monday, June 2nd 2014, 7:33 pm
By: News 9

Native American land owners are fighting for their piece of a $3.4 billion settlement that Congress awarded them years ago.

The bulk of the money has not been paid, and Monday, the attorney for the case met with tribes to tell them why.

Tribes from across the state packed the gym at the Iscani Community Center near the Wichita Housing Authority in Anadarko with hopes of getting their questions answered as to when they'll get their settlement money.

The settlement stems from a class action lawsuit over government mismanagement of tribal lands and accounts. It involves about 500,000 Native Americans throughout the country.

Frustration boiled over for the hundreds there expecting a big chunk of money from the government.

"And I couldn't get my money, and I have acres and 5,000 acres of land right here in Oklahoma, and I still can't get my money," said full-blooded Comanche Indian Lester Kosechata.

"I'm over 80 years old, but I still got a damn good mind and what's been happening isn't right."

David Smith, the attorney for the Cobell v. Salazar class-action trust case came from Washington D.C. to tell the tribes that numerous court appeals and lack of contact information have been the biggest delays.

"The holdup has been the records, you know for 14 years we litigated the fact that the Department of Interiors records of Indian trust beneficiaries were horrible," said Smith of the Kilpatrick

Townsend & Stockton Law Firm has been on the case since 1996.

"It was tough process just being able to find people and their right addresses, a process that requires court approval and updated data while people just want to know when the money is coming and that's understandable but out of everybody's control," said Smith.

Smith said the department's record keeping was so bad that they had 20,000 people, who were listed as alive who were deceased and thousands more listed as deceased who still alive.

Thousands of people in the case aren't even named.

Many sat down with claims administrators with Garden City Group, Inc. to find out how much money they would receive in their Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.

But there was more disappointment as tribes learned their awarded amounts continue to drop during the delay.

"I don't get much, but they're taking from it, and I know a lot of people are losing thousands and thousands of dollars," said Kiowa Indian Loretta McCarthy.

"They get paid, but we have to wait, and in the meantime our money is dropping."

Marcy Davilla, a Kiowa elder says she is outraged that she has already lost more than $9,000.

Smith says the reasons for the decrease are more people keep getting added to the settlement and the expenses for the claims administrator have been greater than expected.

But Smith reassured the money is on the way and J.P. Morgan Chase will be sending out about $1 billion in checks to the heirs.

A judge's order just last Friday, said land owners in the settlement will start to see the checks come in within the next three months.

Smith says the judge will give a period for the Dept. of Interior to clean up the problem with mismanaged records.

"We discovered they put in wrong dates for about 13,000 people, they say problem will be fixed in 30 days, so assuming that's correct, we can hope the money will come in 60-90 days."

Smith says the process will continue to search for the nearly 100,000 people, who are named in the case that they have no contact info for. Click here to see the list of tribes.