Non-tribal governments often threaten to eliminate or compromise the hard-fought-for or bargained-for political status and legal rights of tribes. NARF strives to hold governments at all levels accountable for the broad range of laws that protect tribal sovereignty and Native rights. The United States, in particular, must be responsible to tribes for its legal promises, moral obligations, and past detrimental policies.
Trust Fund Matters
Since the early 1800s, the federal government has imposed itself as the trustee for tribal lands and resources. This trust responsibility obligates the federal government to ensure that tribes receive just compensation for any use or development of their resources. According to its own statistics, the government presently holds about $5 billion in trust funds for tribes and individual Indians. The government holds about 3,300 trust accounts for over 250 tribes.
The current federal policy of tribal self-determination has led the U.S. Congress to allow tribes more control over their land and resources. But this does not necessarily address or make up for centuries of federal inability or unwillingness to properly account for and manage billions of dollars of tribal trust funds and assets. Scores of agency and private reports have criticized the government for its serious errors in administering tribal and Indian trust matters. Because of these historical missteps, many of which continue to present day, NARF, along with other legal counsel representing tribes, have taken the issue to federal courts in order to hold the federal government accountable for its years of mismanagement. Such cases can take decades to resolve.
A major breakthrough came when President Obama’s Administration – which inherited lawsuits by over 100 tribes claiming historical mismanagement of their trust funds and assets –engaged in government-to-government negotiated settlements of the tribes’ claims To date, NARF has represented 35 of the tribes that have reached settlement agreements. We continue to assist 20 more tribes in ongoing settlement negotiations.
NARF Cases, Projects, and Resources:
- Intertribal Council of Arizona v. United States
- Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate v Jewell
- Pembina Chippewa v. U.S. (Pembina Judgment Fund)
- Nez Perce v. Jewell
- Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts – Cobell v. Salazar
Related NARF News:
- NARF Brings Historical Tribal Trust Claims to Historic Settlements. Legal Review, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Winter/Spring) 2012