Senate Committee Hears Opinions Of Oklahomans On Settlement

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:28 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahomans got to voice their opinions of a proposed settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accuses the federal government of mismanaging American Indian trust accounts.

Most of the approximately 60 people attending the meeting criticized the proposal during Friday's U.S. Senate committee hearing on the decade-old litigation known as the Cobell case in Tulsa.

``I think this government does not want to live up to what they've done,'' said Marcianna R. Jacobs, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have said Indians may be owed as much as $27.5 billion, but a Senate bill proposes settling the lawsuit for $8 billion.

``The $27.5 billion should really be revisited because that's ridiculous to go from $27.5 to $8 billion,'' said E. Bernadette Huber, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

``If we Indians owed the U.S. government $27 billion they would want every penny of it,'' Emily Saupitty, an Apache from Apache, Okla., said.

But committee general counsel David Mullon, said $8 billion is the figure his boss, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., thinks he can get through Congress.

``Every account holder, of course, would like it to be more,'' Mullon said. ``We're not going to get $27.5 billion through the 109th Congress. It ain't going to happen.''

Friday's meeting was the last of four held during Congress' August recess. Previous meetings were in Auburn, Wash., Phoenix and Bismarck, N.D.

Among other things, Oklahoma speakers said the proposal lacked an ``opt-out clause'' that would let individual Indians pursue separate lawsuits.

Mullon said an opt-out clause is not an option because one of the government's goals in settling is to be finished with the trust issue once and for all.

``If you want a settlement in the billions, then ending all claims is a part of it. They want total peace. They want an end to the litigation,'' he said.

Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray, chairman of the Intertribal Monitoring Association on Indian Trust Funds, said the legislation probably has a 50-50 chance of passing.

``There's a genuine desire on both sides to settle, but there's a lot of debate on whose terms,'' Gray said.