RST Debates On Fate of Salazar Payment
By Jamie Wilson
The historic court case Cobell vs. Salazar was finally settled with the announcement in late November that funds were to be released to qualifying tribal members from across the nation. Checks were expected to be disbursed sometime immediately before Christmas.
The case began in 1996 when Elouise Cobell argued that the Interior Department had mismanaged billions of dollars in Indian trust funds and accounts. Unfortunately, Cobell did not live long enough to see the fruits of her tireless labor. She passed away in October 2011 of cancer, but her legacy as a champion for Native American rights will live forever.
The Indian Trust Settlement case totals about $3.4 billion in monies to be disbursed. $1.5 billion of that will go to approximately 350,000 tribal members who have an Individual Indian Money account with the U.S. Government.
Payments for those who are heirs of land owners will receive payments through probate, if that family member passed after September 30, 2009. Expected amounts per individual is about $1,500.00.
Another $1.9 billion will be used primarily to “buy up interests in trust lands that are owned by many people,” or fractionated interests as it is commonly known. Sixty million dollars has also been set aside to establish a scholarship fund for Native American youth. Finally, $100 million will also be used from the settlement to pay the lawyers fees for their work from 1996 to present.
Locally, the scene in Mission on December 19 was one of scurry and scuttle, as individuals lined up to cash their checks. Wells Fargo’s parking lot, and drive up lanes were filled with waiting vehicles. The lone bank in Mission seemed to have prepared for the influx, cars flowed through the lines throughout the afternoon until closing.
Local grocery stores also prepared for the streams of customers. Buche’s store was cashing checks, as was First Stop Grocery, All Stop in Rosebud, and several other area businesses.
In related news, the “Salazar Settlement” was also set to begin being distributed to 44 Tribes across the nation. The Salazar settlement is separate from the Cobell lawsuit that the federal government settled for $3.4 billion.
The dispersal is part of a $1 billion settlement in a lawsuit initially filed by the Nez Perce Tribe for mismanaged assets and natural resources held in trust by the government for the tribes.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe received around $20 million as part of the Salazar Settlement, and there has been some ongoing debate between both the RST Council and Tribal members as to how the money should be used.
Some tribal members are in support of distributing the money as a per capita payment, while others believe it should stay in control of the Tribe for use in community development, program development, etc.
With the influx of new enrollees, the number of Rosebud tribal members stands at around 43,000. If the Rosebud Sioux Tribe were to choose the route of a per capita payment, that would mean each person eligible would receive between $300 to $330, this according to RST Treasurer Wayne Boyd.
Income received as a per capita payment is taxable under law, and must also be declared on yearly tax returns.
On December 28, a statement was released from the Office of the Rosbeud Sioux Tribal President concerning the acceptance of the Salazar Settlement, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s plan for use of the payment.
“The Council decided between April and December that, rather than disbursing the money in a one-time, unsustainable payment to all tribal citizens, that it would invest the money in a conservative money fund account with Wells Fargo. That principle investment would then accrue between five and seven percent interest annually, producing $750,000 to $1.05 million in ongoing funding for tribal programs,” stated the press release.
“The RST Council plans to use the money to fund current tribal programs as well as hear proposals from tribal citizens on new programs or initiatives. The Council is continuing to seek ongoing input from tribal citizens on how to allocate the remaining $15 million, after lawyer’s fees.”
Also, all twenty communities across the reservation would receive money to promote community development such as building repairs, equipment purchases, etc. Money would be distributed based on population, with Rosebud and Antelope communities receiving $100,000.00, and the smaller communities receiving $50,000.00.
Statements from RST President Cyril Scott were also included in the press release:
“‘We always need to be thinking forward and consider our children and grandchildren,” said Scott. “We need to think about what we’re leaving for them. We’re asking the people to consider their families to allow us invest this money so the tribe can have a continuing funding source for aid programs and jobs, so we can build ourselves back up.”
‘Echoing his sentiments, RST Treasurer Wayne Boyd said, “The one thing most people don’t understand is that a majority of our people are on some sort of assistance. Whereas the Cobell settlement was given to individuals and tax-exempt, any payment from the tribe to its people would be taxed and they’ll have to declare it and report it as income.’”
It has been reported that an individual tribal member has very recently filed a petition with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Secretary office to have the Salazar funds released as a per capita payment. Information will be published as it becomes available.