Allottee Decries Challenges to Cobell

Navajo Times
By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau, CHINLE
September 12, 2011

Four people or entities have announced they will appeal the long-awaited $3.4 billion settlement of Cobell v. Salazar, prompting head-shaking from a group representing Navajo allottees.

"I don't understand why these people didn't opt out of the case when they had the chance," said Ervin Chavez, president of Shi Shi Keyah, speaking of the appellants.

According to attorneys for Elouise Cobell, trying the appeals could postpone the distribution of the settlement for a year or more - an outcome Chavez says is simply not acceptable considering all the beneficiaries who have died waiting for the landmark case to slog its way through the court system for the last 15 years.

Cobell had asked the Department of Interior to account for its management of individual Indian money accounts over the last 100 years. So many documents were missing or inaccurate that the task was impossible, and the government settled with the 500,000 Native American account holders for $3.4 billion - the largest settlement with the feds in U.S. history.

But some account holders, particularly Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Colo., a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, have voiced strong objection to the settlement.

In a series of newspaper opinion pieces, Craven claimed the government still owes Natives a historical accounting, the tribes will have little say in consolidating their fractionated land holdings (a provision of the settlement), and the amount set aside for scholarships should be available immediately.

Also threatening appeals are the Harvest Institute Freedmen Federation and two individuals, Leatrice Tanner-Brown and William Warrior.

Cobell's attorneys have asked the court to require each appellant to put up an $8.3 million bond to cover the costs associated with the appeals - a move that Craven's attorney called a thinly disguised effort to squelch the appeals process.

Chavez says he agrees with Cobell's attorneys that the vast majority of the plaintiff class supports the settlement.

"True, as Elouise Cobell stated, that this is not a perfect settlement," Chavez wrote in an e-mail to the Times, "but this is most likely the best settlement that would be realized especially in the state of our economy." The allottee representative says he hopes the judge either dismisses the appeals or removes them from the settlement.

"A lot of allottees have called and continue to wait for the funds to be paid out," he said.