COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) - Descendants of slaves once owned by Native Americans demand a cut of a $3.4 billion class-action settlement that Congress is reviewing, from the case of Cobell v. Ken Salazar. The Harvest Institute Freedom Federation claims that the settlement resolving the Department of the Interior's centuries-long abuse of Native American trust funds "perpetuates past unlawful racial discrimination" by failing to compensate "Freedmen slaves of the Five Civilized tribes."
Some freedmen were given membership in some tribes after slavery was abolished, according to the federal complaint.
The so-called Five Civilized tribes were the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminoles.
Eloise Cobell, a Blackfoot, is lead plaintiff in a long-running class action against the Department of the Interior, which spent, lost and otherwise abused billions of dollars it was supposed to hold in trust for Native Americans, for more than a century. The class action turned up a history of such incompetence and deceit over so many years that the federal judge hearing the case in Washington, D.C., Royce Lambeth, eventually was removed from it after a series of blistering rulings against the federal government. The case was settled in December 2009. The settlement calls for $1.4 billion to go to plaintiffs and their attorneys, and $2 billion to be used to repurchase land that the government gave away or sold.
The legislation at issue, the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act of 2010, was approved by the Senate on May 18. A vote is pending on the House version, H.R. 4213.
The Harvest Institute wants that vote enjoined, claiming that it will irreparably harm the descendants of freedmen, unless their claims are considered. The Harvest Institute claim that the Five Civilized Tribes made treaties with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but that the United States has not repudiated its obligations to the rebellious tribes, though the legislation in effect repudiates its obligation to their slaves.
The class wants approval of the settlement enjoined, and the House vote enjoined, until the class's rights are considered. The class is represented by Percy Squire of Columbus.
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