Historic $554 Million Settlement With Navajos

(CN) – The Navajo Nation will accept a $554 million settlement with the federal government Friday – the largest cash settlement ever with a single tribe – ending years of litigation over mismanaged trust fund assets.
     The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Indian tribe, sued the United States in 2006, claiming the federal government had mishandled its funds and natural resources for decades – since at least 1946.
     The Navajo sought $900 million in damages and detailed reporting on tribal accounts. The case never went to trial.
     In May this year, the Navajos, the Departments of Interior and Justice, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed to settle the dispute for $554 million in exchange for dismissal of the royalties claim.
     The Navajos agreed to forego further litigation over previous federal management of their resources and funds held in trust by the federal government.
     The settlement is to be sealed with a signing ceremony in Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo reservation, on Friday morning.
     The Navajo Nation has the largest reservation in the country, home to almost two-thirds of its 300,000 members, which spans 27,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
     The tribe has leased 14 million acres of trust lands to various agricultural endeavors, including farming, grazing, and oil, gas and other mineral extraction.
     The land is also leased for businesses, rights-of-way, easements and housing.
     Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced his resignation on Thursday, called the settlement an end to “protracted and burdensome litigation.”
     “It will provide important resources to the Navajo Nation, and it fairly and honorably resolves a legal conflict.”
     Dana Bobroff, deputy attorney general of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, applauded the settlement as “an absolute historical, landmark accomplishment.”
     “There is a misconception sometimes that the Navajo Nation has not attempted to hold the United State responsible for their trust responsibilities,” Bobroff said. “And that is just outright wrong.”
     The settlement “will never completely redress the wrongs done on prior generations,” Bobroff added. “But, it’s going to allow some opportunities for future generations.”
     The deal follows similar settlements by the Obama administration, including a $1 billion agreement with 41 tribes in 2012.
     In 2011, the administration separately agreed to pay $330 million to settle a long-running trust lawsuit by the Osage Tribe of Oklahoma.
     Ben Shelley, president of the Navajo Nation, called the half-billion-dollar settlement “fair and just.”
     “The Navajo Nation has worked tirelessly for many years to bring this issue to a close,” Shelley said in a statement. “After a long, hard-won process, I am pleased that we have finally come to a resolution on this matter to receive fair and just compensation for the Navajo Nation.”
     The federal government is expected to pay the tribe within the next 30 to 60 days.

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