Monday, July 11, 2011

History is bitter sweet

A settlement of more than $3.4 billion for the government’s “alleged” mismanagement and literal theft of trust funds for around 500,000 individual Indians was approved June 20. It is the largest settlement to be approved against the U.S. (Read the story here)
Those thousands of Indians, or their heirs, will receive about $1,000 for the resources harvested and utilized on their land, payments they should’ve received since they were given an Individual Indian Monies account.
The settlement is a result of the 15-year lawsuit, Cobell v. Salazar, brought about by Elouise Cobell, a modern-day hero in the Native community and a Blackfeet.
My mother is an heiress. We own some land on the outskirts of Crownpoint, N.M. She, nor I, never knew about the Cobell case until I had to do research on it for one of my American Indian Studies classes — yes, even Native Americans have to take classes to learn about Native Americans.
Frankly, I don’t think she cares. It’s really only pocket change compared to what is really owed to Natives, and pocket change won’t make a lifetime of poverty feel better or worth it. The most I can get out of my mom is an “oh” and a “hmm.”
For many Natives, it’s just another promise by the government and who’s to say the Bureau of Indian Affairs won’t mismanage and literally steal what’s promised to individuals this time around? Let’s just see how long it takes for my mom to get a $1,000 check in the mail.
That’s one viewpoint.
I for one am excited. This case will be included in a chapter in future history books — under trust land, resources and Cobell in the index. I am witness to the government owning up to it’s mistakes, admitting they were wrong, they are sorry and are giving back to Natives what’s rightfully theirs. I am witness to a better government-tribal relationship.

What is an individual Indian money account (IMA) you ask? This is not where we store our riches to build our casinos. No. IMAs came about during the allotment era (late 1800’s up to the 1930’s) in American Indian history. Indian trust land was split up between individual Indians. As soon as word got out that some land was loaded with lucrative resources but blocked by the big “Trust” sign, the BIA assigned IMAs to legally lease out that trust land while collecting money they would disburst to their individual landowners’ IMAs. Obviously that didn’t work so well and the system was plagued by theft, negligence and mismanagement.
What is the allotment era you ask? 1871 to 1928. This is the time when Natives lost most of the land they were assigned — allotted, and it was all legal. As said before, land was assigned to individual Indians which was guaranteed trust status, meaning no one can tax/buy/sell it, for about 25 years. No one sent out a memo to Indians about their own land business and if they did, they made it very difficult to understand. You have to think back to when Indians didn’t all speak English, let alone understand the legal jargon in fine print. They were also a people who didn’t believe Mother Earth should be owned, bought or sold. Suddenly landowners, who didn’t have jobs and were in a desperate state of poverty, were getting bills in the mail — taxes — when the 25 years were up. They couldn’t pay and lost their land in auctions where their land was sold for mere pennies. Or, they couldn’t afford food for their family and were forced to sell their land.


  1. Yes, all we do is wait for the Government to fulfill their promises. I won't be surprised if I get a check within the next 5-10 years from now. The "pocket change" would put food on my table for a few days and a full tank of gas.

  2. I for one am glad that someone stood up for all of the people who were part of the case, and that it gives our people a wake up call to pay more attention to what the goverment does to the native americans behind closed doors. And also its not about the lil bit of money but about the wealth in our lands. The land may not mean much to many cause they think its all dirt n weeds, but to many others that lived and build their families on the "rez"long ago, they would rather have that land than not to have anything at all. Just stop and think about some of the other tribes who gave up land to get casinos, which lead to drug abuse, laziness, lack of their traditions, lack of appreciation for hard work and forgetfulness of native american pride in who they are and where they come from... so I say thank you to the person who stood up for our people.
    Ask your elders, family even close friends about these lands and what it means... a brush is not just a brush... it might be a medicine, it can also be the beautiful colors use in our rugs .. a tree might not only just be a tree... it might bear some kind of food or sap to help with pottey, or even be a source of fire wood for the cold winters... these lands are there for us. Take part no matter where you... its still home.