War & Trust & the Waiting Game
It’s always heartening to hear you CAN win a war — especially when the odds are stacked against you.
And I say this as an individual who is virulently anti-war in the classical sense of the term. I’m not much for guns and bombs and blood lust. But I do love the notion that you can fight a wrong without shooting — and right it.
That’s what the fight has been for Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana.
Today we can bask in the incipient victory of this stalwart warrior. ‘Course, she may not fit the profile of the movie version. She’s a she. She’s 64. And she’s an accountant. She won by arming herself with nothing more than the truth and the proof of that truth. The truth being the US government’s mismanagement of trust monies owed to about 300-thousand native people. A pot full of money that runs into the billions of dollars.
The monies owed come from Indian land that was being leased by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs as farmland. The money from those leases and the development of resources — timber, oil, crops — on that land was supposed to go into what are known as Individual Indian Money trust accounts. But it was the non-native people leasing the land who were getting rich. So Cobell launched a class action lawsuit. Fourteen years ago. As Cobell was quoted in the Green Bay Press-Gazette:
If a bank did what the government did, they would have been put in receivership … They were managing money and lands with no background in money management.
In May, the U-S House of Representatives voted in favour of settling that lawsuit, which means Cobell and her fellow complainants could be in for a $3.4 billion dollar resolution.
It’s a lot of resolution. Even though it’s only a sliver of the $47 billion they had been seeking. Bitter medicine being what it is, $3.4 billion is easier to swallow than $47 billion.
So it may be all over. Except … there’s one final hurdle. The US Senate has to enact the legislation by a June 15 July 9 deadline. It’s been pushed back by virtue of the fact the settlement is attached to a jobs bill which Senate Republicans killed June 24th via filibuster. When that changed, a rookie Senator decided to wade in and press for a cap on lawyer fees being charged for the 14 years it’s taken to to wrangle the settlement in the first place. Cobell says if the terms of the legal fees are tinkered with the whole settlement could fall apart.
So once again it’s a waiting game.
Now, Elouise Cobell is a patient woman. She’s had to deal with slurs about how much the lawyers are going to make on the case – from $50 to $100 million is the figure widely cited. She’s also had to field accusations of playing loose with her own portion of the settlement money.
But she hasn’t quit. Some time back, she issued a statement in the hope the U-S Senate would do the right thing. The clock keeps ticking.