The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Time to pay up

with 2 comments

I hope you read the summary of Juan Cole’s excellent speech on the history of Iran-US relations. Because here’s a story that’s strikingly similar – only it happens within the borders of the USA:

Mother Jones, today, tells how the U.S. Department of the Interior holds the lands of Native Americans in trust, leasing the use of them to corporate interests and paying the Indians the proceeds of the leases.

Guess what? The timber and mining and oil and agriculture corporations have grown rich. The Indians are twice as poor as average Americans. See how this is like the Middle East? [Quiz question for readers familiar with the Gospels: Whose side is Jesus on, here?]

[At right: Elouise Cobell, Mary Johnson and Ervin Chavez arrive at the National Museum of the American Indian. Drummers from Blackfeet Nation follow.]

Well. Ten years ago … a lawsuit was begun on the part of 500,000 native Americans, insisting that the government has been grossly negligent in its management of more than $100 billion in oil, gas, timber, and other royalties since 1887. According to the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, a federal court has ordered the DOI to account for money held in trust for individuals so it can determine the amount owed to these half-million trustees. Hundreds more lawsuits have followed, since.

Recently, the government offered to settle for $7 billion. That’s significant, because it’s the first time the government has ever been willing to suggest that there was potential for a concrete settlement amount. But ask yourself this: What do you know about first offers? Riiiight.

Here’s what has to say:

Just consider that Interior’s own experts have estimated that the government’s liability in the Cobell case (excluding all other claims) to be at least $10 billion, and that it could exceed $40 billion. Now consider that the Kempthorne-Gonzales letter proposes a $7 billion cap that eliminates “all existing and potential individual and tribal claims for trust accounting, cash and land mismanagement, and other related claims, along with the resolution of other related matters . . . that permit recurrence of . . . litigation.

Get it? “We’ll pay part of what we owe in just one of the 250 outstanding cases. In return, every Indian everywhere will agree not to sue the U.S. government ever again for such things.”

Riiight. Think they’ll ask white folks for concessions like that?

IndianTrust again:

The scope is breathtaking, and the injury to Indians everywhere can only be described as catastrophic. The Attorney General himself has said that the tribal accounts alone [as opposed to the individual accounts] are valued at $200 billion. …
The Cobell case has a very limited goal; it seeks, as provided by law, to enforce the government’s trust duty to provide 500,000 individual Indian trust beneficiaries with an adequate accounting of their trust assets and a restatement of the account balances in accordance with the accounting.

We can’t turn back the clock and undo the damage white people brought to native Americans through genocide and land theft. But we can start dealing fairly, now. And if there has been ongoing robbery and mismanagement of native American property, a fair accounting is the least that’s due. I’d be asking for penalties, too – wouldn’t you? If your Ma and Pa lived and died in poverty while others got rich off their property… wouldn’t you?

Righting these wrongs will be costly. But we’ll be poorer still if government lawyers find a way to squirrel out of it. Facing our past simply costs that much.

Related post: Jesus’ Preference for the Poor

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Written by Monte

March 9, 2007 at 8:16 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Indeed. I hope that eventually enough will see it that it will be dragged to a halt. We can tell the story today as never before in history. And truth still makes people free!
    Thanks, friend, for coming by!


    March 10, 2007 at 9:58 pm

  2. Monte, I think this country’s treatment of the native peoples is one of the saddest chapters in our history. Unfortunately, the chapter is still being written…


    March 10, 2007 at 4:08 am

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