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Settlement Aims To Fix 25 Years Of Tribal Funding Shortfalls

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Antonia Gonzales
/
National Native News

The federal government is offering a $940-million dollar settlement in a decades long case over federal contracts with tribes.
 
The class action lawsuit that began in 1990 alleges the feds shortchanged tribes in contracts for items like law enforcement, road maintenance, forest management, housing, and education.
 
The Oglala Sioux Tribe on Pine Ridge brought the initial suit.  Tribal officials allege that for years the feds would promise to cover costs for approved projects, then not come through with full payments.

Anyone who has spent time in places like Pine Ridge knows that the roads are often full of potholes, school buildings are crumbling, tribal law enforcement are underfunded and under staffed, and tribal housing is inadequate.   With this settlement the federal government acknowledges it’s been shortchanging tribes that struggle to deal with these challenges.  
 
“As the settlement of today’s case shows U.S. Government hasn’t always had a proud history with Indian Country,” says U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
 
For those like U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this settlement is another step to bettering the relationship between the federal government and tribes.  
 
“That’s why today’s news is a really good reminder that settling past grievances, the hard work that sometimes takes many years in this case decades is absolutely necessary if we’re going to move forward on repairing years of broken promises,” says Jewell.
 
Federal officials call this a compromise agreement that comes after a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 2012.   Under the proposed settlement tribes and tribal programs like law enforcement, housing, and road maintenance would begin to receive payments to make up for the shortfalls over the last 25 years.   Tim Purdon is the former U.S. Attorney for North Dakota.  He praises this settlement as a very important step, but Purdon says more work remains.

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Credit Charles Michael Ray
Tribal housing on places like Pine Ridge is one area of the settlement moneys are aimed.

“The problems in Indian Country are literally centuries in the making. So, we have miles and miles to go before we sleep,” says Purdon.  “Before tribal communities are safe places, places where people have economic opportunity and parts of America where if you work hard and play by the rules you can reach your potential.  We have a long way to go to get to that point,” he adds.    
 
Federal officials say next year is the soonest the settlement monies could come through depending on any further legal challenges or appeals.