Saturday January 22, 2011 - Weekend Edition OBAMA SIGNS COBELL SETTLEMENT INTO LAW

For Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit over the federal government's mismanagement of the Indian Trust, President Obama's signing of legislation approving the settlement of the dispute sends an historic message to Indian Country. "After 123 years of living with what Congress once called the ‘Broken Trust,’ people throughout Indian Country will see Wednesday as a monumental day," said Ms. Cobell, a member of Montana's Blackfeet Nation and a banker. "On Wednesday the nation's political leaders placed their seal of approval on the settlement of our fight in the courts," she said. "The successful enactment of The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 confirms that both Congress and the executive branch believe that our settlement is fair and proper – a good deal for all," she said. The long-running Cobell case involves the theft and mismanagement of the trust assets of individual Indians by the government. It has been fiercely litigated through the courts with more than 3,600 filings in the district court alone, as well as 80 published judicial opinions, she said. Cobell also voiced appreciation for the support the President and members of Congress have showed for resolving the Indian Trust dispute. "I would like to thank our many advocates in Congress and the Administration," she said. "Without them, enactment of the settlement would not have been possible."

Remarks by the President at Bill Signing For The Claims Resolution Act

The case we’re addressing today has to do with the responsibilities that the government has to Native Americans. It began when Elouise Cobell -- who’s here today -- charged the Interior Department with failing to account for tens of billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans.

Elouise’s argument was simple: The government, as a trustee of Indian funds, should be able to account for how it handles that money. And now, after 14 years of litigation, it’s finally time to address the way that Native Americans were treated by their government. It’s finally time to make things right.

The bipartisan agreement finalized this month will result in payments to those affected by this case. It creates a scholarship fund to help make higher education a reality for more Native Americans. It helps put more land in the hands of tribes to manage for their members. And it also includes money to settle lawsuits over water rights, giving seven tribes in Arizona, Montana and New Mexico permanent access to secure water supplies year-round.

After years of delay, this bill will provide a small measure of justice to Native Americans whose funds were held in trust by a government charged with looking out for them. And it represents a major step forward in my administration’s efforts to fulfill our responsibilities and strengthen our government-to-government relationship with the tribal nations.

In the end, the work that is represented on this stage and among these members of Congress, this isn’t simply a matter of making amends. It’s about reaffirming our values on which this nation was founded -– principles of fairness and equality and opportunity. It’s about helping families who suffered through no fault of their own get back on their feet. It’s about restoring a sense of trust between the American people and the government that plays such an important role in their lives.

As long as I have the privilege of serving as your President I will continue to do everything I can to restore that trust. And that’s why I am so extraordinarily proud to sign this bill today.

I want to thank once again all those members of Congress. We got a lot of members here -- the Congressional Black Caucus, who I know worked the Pigford issue tirelessly. We’ve got, as I said, Democrats and Republicans who were supportive of this issue for so long. This is one of those issues where you don't always get political credit, but it’s just the right thing to do. And I couldn’t be prouder of you.

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