A federal judge ruled last month that Native Americans suing the U.S. government over mismanaged royalties collected from gas and oil companies that drilled on their lands are entitled to $455 million. The ruling is the latest in a case that has been in the court for 12 years. The ruling focused on how much royalty money was withheld from trust accounts managed by the Department of Interior on behalf of 500,000 Native Americans and their heirs over the past 121 years.
The Native Americans’ lawyers said that the government had badly mismanaged the trusts and that there was a shortfall of nearly $4 billion. At a June bench trial, the lawyers said the Native Americans were owed $47 billion, a figure that represented the “benefit” the government received from improperly using the missing money. The government’s lawyers had argued that only several hundred million dollars was in dispute.
The Blackfeet tribe, located in northwest Montana, filed the class-action lawsuit in 1996, seeking to force the Interior Department to account for billions of dollars in royalties from Indian lands held in trust by the government. The origins of the suit date to 1887, when the government divided up millions of acres of Indian reservation land and parceled it out to individual Native Americans, then put the lots into trusts controlled by the Department of the Interior. On behalf of the Native Americans, the government then leased the land to oil, gas and other companies. The government has run into trouble trying to account for the money. Many records are missing or have been destroyed. Both sides are considering an appeal.
Source: Washington Post
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