Jan. 8, 2007 – Native Americans filed a class-action lawsuit last month in another attempt to end a decades-long struggle with the government over the mismanagement of tribal trust funds.
The nonprofit Native American Rights Fund filed the lawsuit on behalf of over 250 Indian tribes. The plaintiffs are seeking accurate accountings from the US Department of the Interior (DOI) for money that is held in trust funds for Indians by the federal government. The money, which is generated from drilling, foresting, and other activities that take place on Native American property, is collected for dispersal by the government.
The suit alleges that tribal trust-fund accountings completed by the firm Arthur Anderson on behalf of the government were not complete and that the tribes have never been given full information about account transactions and how much money is in their trust funds.
The suit is asking the court to force the government to correct trust-fund balances using complete accounting.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, the mismanagement of Native American trust funds reaches back to the 19th Century, when the US government broke reservations into 80- to 160-acre parcels of land and allotted ownership to individual Native Americans.
Most beneficiaries, however, have seen little or no money from their trust and have not been provided accurate records of how much money they should have received.
As of 2003, the government administers about $3 billion in Indian trust funds.
"This lawsuit is a reflection of a huge historical problem with the federal governmentâ€™s mismanagement of tribal trust accounts," said Rebecca Miles, chair of the Nez Perce Tribe, in a press statement. "We have tried to work with the agencies and we have tried to work with Congress. Our hope now is with the courts."