Major Breakthrough Announced on Settlement of Cobell Litigation


Today, the Departments of Interior and Justice and Eloise Cobell announced a settlement of the ongoing Cobell trust accounting litigation on behalf of Individual Indian account holders.  The terms of the settlement:

  1. $1.4 billion dollars for settlement of accounting and mismanagement claims. This fund will be divided into two parts.  Each account holder would receive $1000 for historical accounting claims.  Resource mismanagement claims will be settled under a court-approved formula.  The lawsuit must be modified to add resource mismanagement claims (not a part of the current litigation).
  2. $2 billion for addressing fractionation of individual Indian land. Small fractionated interests would be purchased from Indian landowners on a voluntary basis, and the consolidated land will be turned over to tribes under the terms of the Indian Land Consolidation Act.
  3. Creation of a Secretarial Commission on Indian Trust to make recommendations and oversee a performance audit of trust systems and controls.   This provision appears to be intended to review the sunset of the Office of Special Trusteee.
  4. Approval by Congress and the Federal District Court Required. The settlement anticipates that Congressional approval will be required in order to use the federal Judgment Fund for the settlement.  In addition, the overall terms of the settlement must be approved by the U.S. District Court.

There are many more details about the settlement available on the Department of Interior website at and at

The proposed settlement of the litigation represents a significant breakthrough on an issue that has troubled Indian country for many decades.  The settlement amount is lower than was expected when the litigation began, but is significantly higher than the $456 million awarded by Judge Robertson after a trial in 2008.  The higher amount likely represents the value of adding trust mismanagement claims to the accounting claims.  In addition, the funds for consolidating fractionated lands under tribal ownership will help to resolve longstanding land management problems and will increase economic development opportunities.

Published by Traci L. Morris

Dr. Morris, the Director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. Under her leadership, the AIPI has grown and diversified its service to Indian Country via an MOU formalizing a long-standing partnership with the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) and forming the Tribal Economic Leadership Program offering training in Tribal Economic Governance and Tribal Financial Management; access to Entrepreneurship training and tribal business support through Inno-Nations; and Economic Development Consulting; and, the formalization of the Institute via by-laws and an advisory board comprised of both internal ASU leadership and external tribal and non-tribal leadership. In her work at both ASU and prior, Morris has worked with Native American tribes; Tribal businesses; Native American non-profits; Native media makers, artists, and galleries; written a college-accredited curriculum in Native American new media; and has advocated for digital inclusion at the Federal Communications Commission and on Capitol Hill. Morris’s research and publications on Native American media and the digital divide is focused on Internet use, digital inclusion, network neutrality, digital and new media curriculums, digital inclusion and development of broadband networks in Indian Country. Her book, Native American Voices: A Reader, continues to be a primary teaching tool in colleges throughout the country. Dr. Morris is Affiliated Faculty at ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society, an Affiliate of ASU's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, a Senior Sustainability Scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, President of the Board of the Phoenix Indian Center, Board member of the Arizona American Indian Chamber of Commerce, and on the Advisory Council of the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums. Formerly, Morris served member of the Advisory Board for the Department of Labor's Native American Employment and Training Council and served a two-year appointment (2014-2016 and 2010-2012) on the Federal Communications Commission's Consumer Advisory Committee. As an entrepreneur prior to her ASU appointment, Morris founded Homahota Consulting LLC, a national Native American woman-owned professional services firm working in policy analysis, telecommunications, education, and research assisting tribes in their nation-building efforts and working with Native Nations, tribal businesses and those businesses working with tribes. Morris has an M. A. and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona’s American Indian Studies, in addition to a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Colorado State University.

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