From Bill Means:
With all due respect to Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in a recently settled lawsuit over American Indian trust funds (“U.S. to pay Indians $3.4B,” Dec. 9), I think the United States is continuing a policy of “Indians are not humans.”
During the course of this long-running, class-action litigation, it has been documented that the United States owes Indian people more than $137 billion for mismanagement of trust accounts. That was established just by the documents that were presented.
The original federal judge on this case was Royce Lamberth, who held at least three secretaries of the Interior in contempt for not producing thousands of additional documents. Also, during the course of this case, hundreds of relevant documents were found in the trash by Interior Department employees, who reported this to the court and to Interior Department officials.
Those of us who own Indian land, heirs and the American public do not know the total amount owed to Indian people, because the government has refused to turn over all the documents ordered by the federal court. Lamberth was removed from the case; officials in the Bush administration argued that he was biased in favor of Indians.
This has rarely happened in the history of U.S. jurisprudence. Lamberth was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan and is a Texas Republican.
So basically, now, the U.S. government is saying that it has identified the thief of Indian royalties and resources as itself. It has allowed the thief to determine the value of the settlement and mostly has allowed the thief to keep what has been stolen.
Only in America if you steal something and hold onto it long enough does it becomes yours.
To add insult to injury, the government is clearing its conscience by paying back 2.48 percent of the so-far known value of what the United States stole in the first place. Paying $3.4 billion on a known debt of $137 billion is a national disgrace; this needs to be known by all Americans. Cobell should have at least held out until all the documents were presented or a final calculation of the debt was determined.
In the words of a great Oglala Lakota statesman Chief Red Cloud: “The United States made us many promises, but they kept only one. They promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Bill Means is a board member of the International Indian Treaty Council.
This article originally appeared in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune