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Montana News

Jan 14, 2013 11:38 AM by Beth Beechie (beth@krtv.com)

Some Montanans still waiting for Indian trust checks

The multi-billion dollar settlement that Elouise Cobell worked toward for more than a decade was finalized several months ago, two years after it was approved by Congress.

Cobell, who was a Browning resident, brought the lawsuit against the United States in the mid-90s, alleging years of mismanagement of Indian trust accounts.

Cobell was able to celebrate the settlement's passage in 2010, but she did not get to see it play out; she passed away following a battle with cancer in October 2011.

The settlement includes a $1.5 billion fund to be distributed to class members for accounting and potential trust fund and asset mismanagement claims.

As a result, almost half-a-million Americans were expecting checks from an Indian trust settlement in December, but for some, the money has yet to arrive.

Warren Small says he and his family fit into both classes of Native Americans who qualify for Indian Trust Settlements.

Two of his brothers got their settlements before Christmas, but Small says Christmas wasn't what he'd hoped this year: "They made it sound like I was going to get it, like 100%."

But his check never came. Now the phone help line for Indian Trust Settlements says it could be February before Small sees his thousand-dollar check.

Small says he usually gets a loan in time to buy Christmas presents for his eight children but didn't thinking the check would come in.

He said, "It was pretty disheartening. I tried to explain to them the best I could about what happened. They're OK with it, but as a man, I was hurt. I couldn't give my kids everything."

KRTV contacted the Indian Trust Settlement group, but no one answered our requests for interviews to try and see why some Native Americans haven't seen their checks.

Small says this waiting takes away from the celebrations of Cobell's hard work and victory: "This was supposed to be a great thing for Native Americans to be lucky and thankful and enjoy the fight that Eloise Cobell did, that she didn't live to see."

Small says he knows eventually get his settlement, he just wishes his kids could have had a more joyful Christmas and benefited from the settlements as well.

Visit the Indian Trust Settlement website to learn more.

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