Montana tribes start receiving settlement money

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Some Indian tribes have started receiving their shares of a $1 billion settlement with the U.S. government over mismanagement of their money and trust lands, while others are waiting and remain undecided on what to do with their windfall.

The agreement between the government and 44 tribes across the nation was announced in March to settle claims of money lost in mismanaged accounts and royalties from natural resource development.

The tribes sued in an attempt to receive an accounting of the Interior Department's management of the trust funds and to learn how much had been lost.

Their claims dealt with tribal trust funds and not individual trust funds, which is addressed in the $3.4 billion class-action settlement led by Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who died last year.

Blackfeet chairman T.J. Show said that tribal leaders will soon distribute $9 million of the $19 million his tribe is due to receive. That's about $550 per person, which Show said will help residents on a reservation where the unemployment rate is between 70 and 80 percent.

"I believe it will be an economic benefit to the tribal members to use as they see fit, whether it be for college kids going to school or parents just needing to feed their child," Show said.

The other $10 million has been earmarked for investment in projects such as a 90-room hotel to be built on the reservation, Show said. The Great Falls Tribune first reported the Blackfeet tribe's plans to disburse the settlement money.

Others, such as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said they have not yet received their settlement money. CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald said tribal leaders have not decided what to do with the $150 million when it comes.

The tribal council is taking suggestions in meetings that run through July 9, but does not know when a decision will be made.

"There is definitely no shortage of rumors flying around, but if anyone claims to know what the council will do, they are simply being hopeful or making it up," McDonald said.

So far, the ideas have run the gamut, from paying it all out to tribal members to allocating it to elders and language programs. One suggestion was to require people under the age of 25 to take a course in money management, McDonald said.

The Interior Department manages more than 100,000 leases on tribal trust lands and about 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 federally recognized tribes.

The largest settlement is $193 million to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington, while the smallest, $25,000, goes to the tiny Nooksack tribe, also in Washington state.

In Montana, settlements are going to the Blackfeet, Sioux and Assiniboine, Chippewa Cree, Northern Cheyenne and Salish and Kootenai tribes.

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