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The Nation

Indian Fund Costs Put at $2.4 Billion

July 06, 2002|From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department estimated Friday that it will cost $2.4 billion and take a decade to rectify almost a century of mismanagement of a trust fund that oversees royalties collected from Indian-owned land.

In a 100-page report to Congress, the Interior Department's Office of Historical Trust Accounting said $13 billion has been collected in more than 100 million transactions since 1909. The report acknowledged that some of that money hasn't been paid out because of discrepancies and lost records.

"The historical accounting project is complex, challenging and enormous," Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said.

The government's mishandling of the trust fund account is the crux of a class-action lawsuit filed six years ago by Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet in Montana, that has become the largest lawsuit filed by Native Americans against the federal government.

Cobell alleged that the money collected for grazing, drilling and logging on behalf of an estimated 500,000 Indian landowners has been improperly collected, stolen and otherwise mismanaged.

The assessment of the problem in the report is "a significant step forward," according to Dan Dubray at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "It's now a matter of how to proceed and what funds will be available to proceed."

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