U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan directed people standing in the doorway into the jury box. As the seats filled, one person was conspicuously absent — Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff. The fairness hearing marked a significant milestone in the now 16-year lawsuit. By the end of a seven-hour hearing, Hogan approved the Claims Resolution Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2010. “After fifteen years of litigation, today’s decision marks another important step forward in the relationship between the federal government and Indian Country,” Obama said in a statement. ”Resolving this dispute was a priority for my administration, and we will engage in government-to-government consultations with tribal nations regarding the land consolidation component of the settlement to ensure that this moves ahead at an appropriate pace and in an appropriate manner.” Hogan surprised many people in the courtroom by announcing his final decision on merits of the settlement. The case centers on the historical government mismanagement of American Indian royalties earned from oil, gas, timber and grazing leases.Tribes in South Dakota were not parties in the suit although some members will receive some compensation as a result of the settlement.
The Supreme Court of the United States recently denied an appeal by the Yankton Sioux Tribe to block the transfer of land from the federal government to the State of South Dakota.
The Rapid City Journal reminds us that the US Fish and Wildlife Service is taking comment on its proposed Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area. This is damned important for preserving the future of wildlife in these United States; go support it. Weaving this concept into settlement of tribal land trust disputes seems to be one component not yet addressed.