Colvilles win $193 million for mismanaged lands
Originally published February 24, 2012 at 3:21 p.m., updated February 24, 2012 at 4:16 p.m.
NESPELEM — The Colville Tribes on Friday announced it will accept a $193 million settlement offer from the federal government for mismanaging tribal lands, including forests and rangeland, for the last 16 years.
The agreement — which the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to sign in the next two weeks — is one of the largest Indian trust mismanagement settlements in U.S. history, said Colville Tribal Chairman Michael Finley.
It’s also more than the $53 million that the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation won from the government in 1994 for lands taken to build Grand Coulee Dam.
A portion of the funds will be set aside and distributed, probably over time, to tribal members, while the rest will be used to restore tribal forests, rangeland and other natural resources, Finley said.
He details of that split hasn’t been decided, and declined to talk about what’s being discussed.
The tribe will be compensated in one, lump sum, expected to be released soon after the Department of Justice gives its final approval.
“It’s going to put a lot of our people back to work,” Finley said of the settlement money. “Our forests need commercial thinning and tree planting. You’re going to see a lot of this money being put to work right away.”
The settlement is not part of what’s known as the Cobell case, a multi-billion dollar class action suit in which individual tribal members across the country — including some on the Colville Indian Reservation — are also suing the Bureau of Indian Affairs for mismanagement of oil, gas, grazing and timberlands.
Finley said this settlement will have no bearing on the outcome of that pending case.
Lands involved in the mismanagement claimed in this settlement involve only trust lands which belong to the tribe, and not individual members.
Finley said it is one case of about 60 tribal trust lawsuits that have been pending for the last decade. “You’ll see in the coming weeks a number of tribes announcing settlements for their own claims,” Finley said.
The Colvilles filed suit in 2005, and won the settlement through negotiations over the last few months, he said. “I can’t iterate enough the willingness of the federal government — specifically the Obama Administration — to treat us fairly, knowing there’s been wrongs,” the tribal chairman added.
Those wrongs included selling tribal timber and leasing its rangeland for less than market value for nearly 30 years, he said.
Finley said the settlement included work by the full governing Colville Business Council, along with previous councils, reservation attorneys and a tribal member, Brian Gunn, who is now an attorney with a Washington, D.C., law firm who served as lead attorney on this case.
“This is the very reason why we endeavor as individuals to do better, and come back and help our people,” Finley said, adding, “This is why I wanted to take up this challenge (of serving as chairman).”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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