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Federal Government To Pay Indian Tribes $1 Billion Over Mismanagement

The U.S. government will pay more than $1 billion to settle lawsuits filed by 41 American Indian tribes, who had accused federal agencies of mismanaging tribal money and resources.

The agreement ends nearly two years of negotiations between the tribes and the federal government. But the disputes that they cover go back even further.

According to a Justice Department release, the "settlements resolve claims dating back more than 100 years and will bring to an end protracted litigation that has burdened both the plaintiffs and the United States."

Officials from the Justice Department, some of the tribes, and the Interior Department announced the deal Wednesday.

The Department of the Interior "manages almost 56 million acres of trust lands for federally-recognized tribes and more than 100,000 leases on those lands for various uses, including housing, timber harvesting, farming, grazing, oil and gas extraction, business leasing, rights-of-way and easements," according the government.

The Interior "also manages about 2,500 tribal trust accounts for more than 250 tribes," according to the release.

The Indian Country Today Media Network cites Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle as saying that the Obama administration did not have to seek approval for the settlement money from Congress, because it will come out of the United States' Judgment Fund.

Indian Country Today quoted Gary Hayes, chairman of the Ute Mountain Tribe, as saying, "The seeds that we plant today will profit us in the future.... These agreements mark a new beginning, one of just reconciliation, better communication... and strengthened management."

The full list of tribes that are involved in the $1.023 billion settlement is posted on the Justice Department website.

Back in 2009, the federal government settled similar disputes for an estimated $3.4 billion, in a class-action lawsuit that also concerned mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts and land.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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