Today, we were honored to join Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to announce the settlement of breach-of-trust lawsuits filed by more than 40 federally recognized American Indian tribes against the United States. The announcement was an extraordinary conclusion to nearly two years of negotiations between the tribes and the United States that have culminated in settlements between the government and 41 tribes, totaling more than $1 billion.
These settlements resolve in a fair and just manner breach-of-trust claims brought by Indian tribes, some dating back more than a century. They bring to an end long-standing disputes about the management of trust funds and non-monetary trust resources, and will allow the United States and the tribes to move beyond divisive issues and into a new era of strengthened and respectful government-to-government relationships. This is a fundamental goal of this Administration.
We have been proud to lead the team of attorneys who represent the Department of Justice in these negotiations and to conclude this process in a way that addresses historical grievances and strengthens the trust relationship that is so fundamental to the government-to-government relationship with American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages. We look forward to continuing similar efforts to resolve cases brought by other tribes through settlements that are fair to both the tribes and the United States.
Under the negotiated settlement agreements, litigation will end regarding the Department of the Interior’s accounting and management of the tribes’ trust accounts, trust lands, and other natural resources. The United States will compensate the tribes for their breach-of-trust claims, and the tribes will waive, release, and dismiss their claims with prejudice. The settlement agreements also contain measures to strengthen management of the tribes’ funds and natural resources, to improve communications between the tribes and the Department of the Interior, and to resolve disputes informally to reduce the likelihood of future litigation.
Tony West is the Acting Associate Attorney General and Ignacia S. Moreno is an Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice.