Senate passes historic Cobell settlement, Crow water compact

Baucus Measure Finalizes Class Action Suit, Longstanding Water Rights Settlement

(Washington, D.C.) – The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed the historic Cobell v. Salazar class-action lawsuit over mismanagement of Indian trust lands. Senator Max Baucus worked with all parties to lead today’s unanimous Senate passage of a plan to settle a decades-old lawsuit involving more than 300,000 American Indians’ trust accounts.
“For too long, our American Indian brothers and sisters have waited for a resolution to an embarrassing example of government irresponsibility,” said Baucus. “Now it’s time to keep fighting for good paying-jobs and investment in education in Indian Country.”
“Hundreds of thousands of folks in Indian Country have waited too long for this settlement,” said Senator Jon Tester, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.  “We have a responsibility to get this passed and signed into law because it’s in the best interest of Montana and all of Indian Country—and it’s the right thing to do.”
In December 2009, the parties in the lawsuit agreed to settle the case, but federal lawmakers have yet to fund the settlement, which includes funding to resolve historical accounting and damage claims, establish a Trust Land Consolidation Fund and support Indian Scholarships.
Montana Blackfeet Tribal member Elouise Cobell, who first brought the suit against the federal government, thanked both senators for their effort in the fight. 
“I want to thank Senators Baucus and Tester for leading the fight in the Senate to provide a long-overdue conclusion to this settlement.  Too many Native Americans have died waiting for justice. My greatest optimism lies ahead hoping that today’s news gives way to permanent reform in the way the Departments of Interior and Treasury account for and manage Individual Indian Money accounts,” Cobell said.
“I want to thank Elouise Cobell for all her hard work and determination. This is an important step toward closing the chapter on a bitter legacy of broken promises. This settlement serves as a reminder that we have a trust obligation to American Indians and we’ve got to fight to hold the U.S. Government accountable,” said Baucus.
The legislation passed today also ratifies the Crow-Montana Water Rights Compact, which outlines the tribe’s authority over distributing, allocating and leasing water rights.  It also provides funding for the development of water resources for irrigation, power, and other uses.
“Passing this water rights settlement is long overdue,” Tester said.  “I’ve supported this settlement since it was in the Montana Legislature, and I’m pleased we finally crossed the finish line.  A lot of folks worked together to get this through the Indian Affairs Committee and through the full Senate.  It will lead to more opportunity and more reliable water resources for the Crow people.”
Tester negotiated with Wyoming’s senators for an entire year on details of the agreement.  Baucus, the chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, made funding available to implement the settlement agreement, built a bi-partisan compromise around the package that passed today, and led the successful effort to push the bill through the Senate. 
The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where it must also pass in order to become law.