The Colville Business Council has approved an agreement to settle the Colville Tribes’ claims against the United States for an accounting of trust funds and mismanagement of tribal trust assets, CBC Chairman Michael O. Finley announced Friday.
The settlement will pay the Colville Tribes $193 million, making it one of the largest Indian trust mismanagement settlements in U.S. history, Finley stated.
Some of the settlement funds will be used to restore tribal forests, rangeland, and other natural resources.
The agreement approved by the CBC also will set aside for distribution to the Colville membership a certain amount of the settlement.
Finley stated that the CBC and a group of tribal members and employees have been meeting for “the past several weeks to develop a comprehensive, long-term plan for use of the funds.”
Finley continued, “Our intent is to provide sustained funding for per capita payments over a period of time. Although there is no formal plan in place yet, we’re hoping to receive constructive feedback and input from the membership on our most critical needs.”
The tribes are waiting for formal approval by the Department of Justice. “We have every reason to expect this will happen within the next two weeks,” Finley reported.
Finley said the settlement is “contingent upon final approval by the Department of Justice and entry of the joint stipulation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the Tribes’ accounting claims were filed in 2005. The funds will likely be disbursed to the Colville Tribes soon after that.”
Brian Gunn, a member of the Colville Tribes and attorney with the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, L.L.P. in Washington, D.C., served as lead counsel on the case and said that the settlement was a fair resolution of the tribes’ claims.
“Thanks to the extremely detailed and comprehensive analyses of a number of highly-qualified experts, the Colville Tribes had a thorough understanding of where past mismanagement had occured,” Finley said. “We were able to get to the final settlement amount by demonstrating how mismanagement of Colville Tribes’ natural resources resulted in significant monetary damages.”
Finley continued, “It is gratifying to know that the federal government, specifically this administration, is willing to repay Tribes, at least in part, for the damages we’ve suffered to resolve these longstanding claims.”
Finley was traveling Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for further comment.