WASHINGTON — American Indians involved in a long-running lawsuit over the federal government's management of trust accounts plan to appeal a U.S. district judge's decision that awarded them only a fraction of the money they sought. Bill McAllister, spokesman for the Indians, said Tuesday that the appeal will be filed with the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. U.S. District Judge James Robertson, who held a trial in June to determine how much money may be missing from the century-old trust system administered by the U.S. Department of Interior, said the government owes $455.6 million to make the system whole. The Indians had sought $47 billion. They argued that $3 billion had been collected for the system and never paid to individual Indian accounts and that, because of the withheld funds, the government had been able to borrow far less over the last 121 years to finance its debt. Robertson rejected the Indians' approach and accepted the government's estimate, based on the work of an outside statistics expert. Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana, said Tuesday on the television show "Democracy Now” that Robertson's opinion was "both profoundly disappointing and difficult to understand.” She said, "The complete lack of concern for fairness to victims of 120 years of abuse is utterly incomprehensible to native people.” Robertson had been hoping to bring the case to a conclusion and suggested in his opinion last week that giving the parties a hard number would lead to some settlement talks. The appeals court here has already ruled on numerous issues in the contentious case.
BackgroundThe accounts were established in 1887 to hold the proceeds from leases on land owned by individual Indians for such activities as oil and gas drilling, grazing and timber cutting. The Indians sued the government in 1996 claiming the trust system was being mismanaged.