Cobell Lawyers Issue Statement On Late Payments

The attorneys responsible for administering the Cobell settlement have issued the following statement regarding the status of payments.  PLEASE NOTE: This website and Foster Pepper PLLC are not involved in the Cobell settlement process - this information is simply provided as a service to our readers.  Contact information for the Cobell settlement attorneys is listed at the bottom of the statement below, thank you.

A Letter from Class Counsel

Concerns have recently been expressed that the second payments under the Cobell settlement – the Trust Administration payments – have not yet been distributed. Please be assured that the Court, the Claims Administrator and Class Counsel are taking all measures necessary to make sure those payments are distributed as quickly as possible consistent with the terms of the settlement.

In particular, frustration has been expressed with the Claims Administrator, the Garden City Group (“GCG”), suggesting it is responsible for the payments not having been mailed. GCG, just like the parties, is required to follow the terms of the Settlement Agreement approved by Congress and the Court, including the timeline set forth in that agreement for mailing of Trust Administration Class payments. At this point, not all requirements imposed by that agreement for mailing of the Trust Administration payments have been satisfied.

Unfortunately, implementation of the settlement was delayed for a year while Congress considered it and almost another year and a half while four individuals appealed the District Court’s order approving it. These were matters over which we had no control. However, once the appeals expired in late November 2012, we worked with the District Court and GCG to make sure that distribution of the Historical Accounting payments, commenced within 30 days. In fact, GCG was able to commence distribution in three weeks after receipt of the final data for distribution.

Unlike the Historical Accounting Class payments, under the terms of the Settlement Agreement as approved by Congress and the Courts, the Trust Administration payments could not be distributed immediately after the expiration of the appeals. Instead, these payments can be made only after all Trust Administration Class members have been identified. This was due to the fact that, in many cases, the Department of Interior had no record of trust beneficiaries on its electronic systems, requiring they self-identify.

Therefore, in order to make sure that everyone who was eligible had an opportunity to participate in the settlement, the Settlement Agreement provided additional procedures for identifying Trust Administration Class Members. These procedures included a Supplementary Notice to Trust Administration Class members that commenced shortly after the appeals expired, along with a claim filing and review process. All claims were to be submitted by March 1, 2013.

During the claims process, there were concerns expressed by class members in Oklahoma who were experiencing difficulties obtaining records to support their claims due to the absence of those records on Interior’s systems and the devastating tornados that affected much of the state. Therefore, the claims process was extended by the Court to make sure that these individuals had an opportunity to participate. As ordered by the Court, claimants had until September 4, 2013 to request an appeal of a claim denial to the Special Master appointed by the Court.

The claims process was successful as over 485,000 claims were filed. All of those claims were reviewed and timely determinations made by GCG. Over 2,400 appeals from those decisions, many several hundred pages in length, are being carefully considered by the Special Master. As provided for in the Settlement Agreement, once all Trust Administration Class members are substantially identified and the Department of Interior has calculated the pro rata share of the settlement to which each Trust Administration Class member is entitled, we will promptly request that the Court approve the Trust Administration payments. We can’t predict with certainty when these matters will be completed enabling us to request payment from the Court. However, we will provide continual updates as new information becomes available to keep you advised of the status of those payments.

Meanwhile, we continue to work with the Court and GCG to ensure the settlement is administered in accordance with the highest standards. When the Cobell case settled, we inherited the Department of Interior’s records of individual Indian beneficiaries – including the many inaccuracies known to exist within those records. However, a commitment was made that the Cobell settlement would not suffer from the deficiencies that historically afflicted the Indian trust system – in particular that everyone who was eligible to participate in the settlement would have an opportunity to do so. Individual Indian trust records have markedly improved as a result of the Cobell lawsuit. However, problems remain. Delays in, or the absence of, probates have resulted in individuals who had passed away remaining on the list of living trust beneficiaries. Multiple records often exist for a single beneficiary. The Department of Interior still does not know the identity of some trust beneficiaries and current contact information was not available for tens of thousands of known beneficiaries.

We continue to work through these issues. By way of example, to date, through extensive outreach and working directly with tribal governments and GCG, we have been able to locate over half of the 65,000 individuals on the government’s “whereabouts unknown” list published by the Office of the Special Trustee, to insure they receive their settlement funds. Thousands more continue to contact us each month. This has been a serious deficiency that has plagued the individual Indian trust since its inception. We are committed to make sure that it does not continue.

If you have contact information for anyone on the government’s “whereabouts unknown” list, please contact the Claims Administrator at 866-591-2958.

Once again, please be assured that we are doing everything we can to make sure all class members receive their payments as soon as possible. We understand the frustrations experienced over the timing of payments. Many beneficiaries are in great need of these funds and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure the payments go out as soon as possible.

You are welcome to email us at or call us at 866-383-6554 if you have any questions at all.

David Smith and Bill Dorris


Federal Trust Responsibility Seminar - October 3 in Seattle

The Seattle University Center for Indian Law and Policy and the Intertribal Timber Council are sponsoring a Symposium on Reform of the Federal Trust Responsibility on October 3, 2014 in Seattle. The Symposium will explore opportunities to significantly improve the benefits that Tribal communities can gain from their natural resource heritage. The U.S. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn will be a panelist, as will practitioners and scholars from around the nation along with House and Senate staff.

Seattle University Professor Eric Eberhard summarized the program’s intent:

We are witnessing a convergence of several factors that could substantially alter the course of future trust administration. Tribal leaders and resource managers are gaining recognition, respect, access to capital, and political clout. The Secretarial Commission on Trust Administration and Reform issued its report and recommendations in December 2013. General fiscal challenges confronting the federal government will dramatically alter workforces and budgets. External forces beyond the boundaries of Indian Country continue to adversely affect the environment and threaten the ability of tribes to access and utilize resources that are vital to sustaining their cultures and economies. The opportunity to significantly improve the benefits that tribal communities can gain from their natural resource heritage is fleeting. The time is ripe for creative, thoughtful exploration of alternative futures for trust administration and resource stewardship.

For more information and to register for the Symposium, click HERE.


BIA Tribal Court Advocacy Training Sessions: March-June 2014


The Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services is offering the following Tribal Court advocacy training sessions, which are open to all professionals working in Tribal Court systems:

March 31 – April 3   Denver, Colorado:     Illegal Narcotics Trafficking

May 19 – 22  Helena, Montana:    Domestic Violence

June 23 - 26    Albuquerque, New Mexico:   DUI – Writing Skills

 The sessions will also include a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Round Table Discussion (1/2 day - 1-5 pm)

If you have questions regarding these sessions please contact Wanda Brunson,
Office of Tribal Justice Support at (202) 513-7649 or



"Bertha" Tunnel Machine Confronts Native History In Seattle


The world’s largest tunnel boring machine, nicknamed “Bertha”, has been stalled for weeks due to mechanical issues. Before it can be restarted, “new” cultural issues must also be resolved. Ancient Native American artifacts could lie in the shaft contractors need to dig to repair the broken machine that is digging the highway tunnel under the waterfront area of downtown Seattle. The Washington State Department of Transportation's cultural resources manager says workers have started using exploratory probes to determine if archaeological work is needed. The shaft will be dug through an area along the Seattle waterfront, which is part of the ancestral lands of local Native American Tribes. The Department's deputy administrator says contractors hope to have a plan soon for the 120-foot shaft, and how any archaeological finds will be handled.


Oglala Sioux Launch New Cryptocurrency

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the most impoverished areas in the US, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has just become the first Native American nation to launch their very own cryptocurrency, the MazaCoin. The currency’s originator Payu Harris wants to use the tribal nation’s sovereignty to set its own rules on cryptocurrencies.

“I think cryptocurrencies could be the new buffalo,” Harris says. “Once, it was everything for our survival. We used it for food, for clothes, for everything. It was our economy. I think MazaCoin could serve the same purpose.”

After signing a joint venture agreement with the Oglala Sioux Tribe Office of Economic Development early in 2014, Harris immediately began creating his new currency to produce 25 million MazaCoins ahead of its launch to serve as a “national reserve” for the Lakota Nation, which can then be used in times of crisis (like the collapse of Mt. Gox) to help stabilize the currency. A number of these coins were handed out to interested businesses and individuals within the community, to encourage them to get involved in trading and arbitrage. Now the Mazacoin is being traded on cryptocurrency exchanges around the world.

“I want to get my people educated and show them this is the next level of finance,” Harris continues. “Let’s make the rest of the world play catch up. Let’s be leaders and rebuild the economy on our terms. We’re not going to ask the federal government if we can do this. I refuse to ask them to do anything within my own borders. When you have children going hungry, it’s time to focus.”


The Boldt Decision at 40 - Special Seminar At Seattle University

The Boldt Decision at 40- The legacy of U.S. v. Washington

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
2:00 p.m. - 3:50 p.m.
Seattle University School of Law
Sullivan Hall, Courtroom
901 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA

Seattle University is offering a special opportunity to meet Mr. Phil Katzen and hear his unique perspective on United States v. Washington, the long-running treaty fishing rights case which confirmed the right of Tribes in Washington state to claim a 50% share of all fish caught in their traditional fishing territories.  Mr. Katzen frequently served as a lead or coordinating counsel for the plaintiff Tribes, including a leading role in vindicating the Tribes’ treaty rights to regulate salmon harvests, to a fair share of the salmon, to take a fair share of shellfish from public and private property, and to protect the habitat necessary to fulfill the Tribes’ treaty rights to take fish.


Tulalip Tribes Gain Partial Criminal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indian Offenders


In a landmark legal development, the Tulalip Tribes will soon be able to prosecute non-Indians for a limited set of crimes.

Tribes have been deprived of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on their reservations under a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  Part of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act allows Tribes to prosecute criminal cases in Tribal Court against non-Indians for domestic-violence crimes and violations of protection orders.

U.S. justice officials announced Thursday that the Tulalip Tribes, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona, and the Confederation Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon have met requirements to implement provisions of the law starting February 20, 2014  The implementation date for most other Tribes is March 2015.


Seminar on "Baby Veronica" Indian Child Welfare Case - March 6, 2014 In Seattle

The American Indian Law Journal and Seattle University are presenting a Spring Panel:

Reconciling Interests: A Focus on the Indian Child Welfare Act Beyond “Baby Veronica”

The “Baby Veronica Case” or Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl was a highly publicized dispute involving an Indian child caught in between the emotional and legal battles of the Cherokee Nation against non-Indian adoptive parents. Moreover, it highlighted the polarizing debates about social policies underlying the Indian Child Welfare Act, the purpose of which was to reverse the separation of Indian children from their families, and restore tribal authority over the welfare of Indian children. Join us for a panel discussion on this Supreme Court case, the future of ICWA beyond Baby Veronica, and if the competing interests of tribes, the government, and Indian and non-Indian parents are reconcilable.

Judge Richard Okrent, Snohomish Superior Ct.
David Babcock, Squaxin Island
Craig Dorsay, Dorsay & Easton LLP
Andrea Smith, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe

Paul Echo Hawk, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton

Thursday, March 6, 2014
5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
Seattle Univ. School of Law
Sullivan Hall, Room C5
Reception to Follow

RSVP’s need to be sent to by February 24th


Yakama Nation To Regain Full Authority On Tribal Lands


As reported by Kate Prengaman / Yakima Herald-Republic -- January 18, 2014

In what tribal leaders call a historic development, Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday signed a proclamation that returns almost all civil and criminal authority over tribal members on the reservation back to the Yakama Nation.

Tribal Council Chairman Harry Smiskin said the signing is not only “historic” but the first of its kind in the country.

“The biggest benefit is that we have the right to determine our own destiny and our own laws,” Smiskin said earlier this week.

But the deal is not done yet. The proclamation needs federal approval, which Smiskin said will probably take another year or so working with the government on final details, including financial support for both law enforcement and civil authority over social issues like school truancy and child and family services.

The Yakama Nation is a sovereign nation that has the authority to govern itself under the treaty signed in 1855 with the federal government. The Nation already has its own police department and jail and has always had some criminal authority over tribal members.

In 1953, under Public Law 280, Congress gave states the authority to take more civil and criminal control over Indian lands. In 1963, Washington’s state government asserted jurisdiction over school attendance, domestic relations, mental illness, juvenile delinquency, adoption, public assistance, and motor vehicle operation on tribal lands.

In 2012, the Legislature created a process for tribes to apply to get that lost authority returned. The proclamation is the result of the Yakama Nation’s petition. A busload of tribal members travelled to Olympia for the ceremony.

The Yakama petition, which was filed in 2012, asked the state to retain authority over mental illness as it arises in the courts and civil commitment of sexually violent predators, but return the rest of the authority taken in 1963.

The state retains jurisdiction over criminal or civil cases that involve non-Indians, even if a tribal member is also involved.

Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey said that was the county’s main concern, and he was pleased that to see the state retained that authority.

Smiskin said he encouraged the tribe to pursue the move — known as retrocession — because he’d seen the benefits when he worked with the Colville Tribe on the issue in the 1980s.

Criminal jurisdiction was returned by the Legislature for the Colvilles and several other tribes then, but Smiskin said that he used what he learned from that process to improve the Yakamas’ move to regain authority, including civil jurisdiction.

Now that Inslee has signed the proclamation, it goes to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for review before it will take full effect.

In preparation, the Yakamas already signed memorandums of understanding with the cities and counties that overlap the reservation.

For example, if a tribal member is pulled over on the reservation for speeding by a sheriff’s deputy, the officer will transfer the driver over to a tribal officer, Bouchey said.

Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin called the retrocession a “work in progress” and said that he still doesn’t know the final details about how the BIA and the Yakama Nation are going to handle some issues, including major crimes, but he respects the process.

“They have some steps left,” Irwin said. “In the meantime, it’s business as usual and we are working together very well.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services referred questions about the retrocession process to the governor’s office.

A governor’s office spokeswoman said the state doesn’t intend to start planning for the transition in jurisdiction until after the retrocession secures federal approval.


Washington Legislators Consider Expunging Tribal "Fish War" Convictions

In the 1960s and 70s, numerous Tribal members in Washington state were arrested and prosecuted for violations of the state’s fishing regulations. Many of the accused were fishing in areas that were within both their ancestral fishing areas and areas designated for them to fish in accordance with U.S.-Tribal treaties – but the state of Washington did not officially recognize these fishing rights until the landmark “Boldt Decision” in U.S. v. Washington in the 1970s. As Native Americans pushed for recognition of their treaty, civil, and human rights during this era, there were numerous “fish-ins” where Tribal members defied state regulations to fish according to their treaties.

Decades after the state prosecutions that arose during the "Fish Wars," a proposal in the Washington state Legislature would give those who were jailed a chance to clear their convictions from the record.
Rep. David Sawyer, a Democrat from Tacoma, is the prime sponsor of the bill. He says it's time to allow people to clear those charges. Under House Bill 2080, Tribal members who were arrested before 1975 could apply to the court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights.