Date of this Version
In December 2009 and at the end of a thirteen-year journey through three administrations and an array of proceedings against four Secretaries of the Interior, a Class Action Settlement Agreement was reached in Cobell v. Salazar before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This accord recommends a two-part resolution to claims of alleged federal mismanagement of American Indian tribal funds and other assets, resulting from the government’s failure to meet its fiduciary responsibilities as specified by the General Allotment Act of 1887. These paths consist of a payment to individual tribe members to address monetary claims, and of a land program to consolidate more than 140,000 individual Indian allotments and over four million fractionated interests derived from the land distribution process of the Act and subsequent legislation. The Department of the Interior’s summary of this decision included a pertinent 40-acre allotment example. This example was originally described in Hodel v. Irving (481 U.S. 704, 713 ) as “one of the most fractionated parcels of land in the world,” a parcel that produced roughly $1,100 of annual income for its 439 unequal owners. Such fragmentation is systemic and has been censured in studies such as the 1928 Meriam Report.
However, the issue of federal trust mismanagement of individual Indian money (IIM) accounts was the central focus of the initial 1996 Cobell v. Babbitt action, since “a majority of the funds are derived from income earned off of individual land allotments” (30 F. Supp. 2d 24, 28 ).2 One effective way to obtain “a thorough understanding of the entire IIM trust account system,” as the opinion proposed, is to examine the Congressional debate and remarks found in the Congressional Record. Another important resource is the Readex digital edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, which offers access to important distillations that pivot on the General Allotment Act and later legislation, and that describe the development of IIMs.