Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is using the Cobell settlement to kick off what he calls a “new era for Indian country nationwide.”
Salazar and other top Interior officials met with tribal leaders in Montana on July, noting what he said were “the latest steps to implement President Obama’s pledge for reconciliation and empowerment for American Indian nations.”
In Billings, Salazar and Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes hosted consultations with tribal leaders from the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains regions to discuss the land consolidation portion of the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement. The settlement, approved by the controlling court last month, in part establishes a $1.9 billion fund that is supposed to be used for the voluntary buy-back and consolidation of fractionated land interests that individual Indian currently own. “The land consolidation program will provide individual American Indians with an opportunity to obtain cash payments for divided land interests and free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities,” according to an Interior press release issue this month.
Some of the attendees of the consultation session were: Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle, Vice-Chairman Coolidge Jefferson, and Secretary Scott Russell and Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Del Laverdure, also a member of the Crow Nation.
Salazar and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor later visited the Crow Indian Reservation to participate with a crowd of 200 celebrating the recently approved Crow Tribe Water Rights Settlement. At the event, Salazar and Connor outlined how the water settlement will create jobs on the reservation while improving the Crow Irrigation Project, noting that it is expected to help build a municipal, rural and industrial water system.
Regarding the $460 million in the water settlement, Salazar announced that, at the request of Black Eagle, the first $500,000 of the settlement funds appropriated by Congress was released to the tribe on July 8 and that $4.9 million in early funding for the settlement has been made available for future disbursement to the tribe.
“Today’s events in Montana signal a new era in the U.S. government’s relationship with Indian country nationwide,” Salazar said. “The Billings meeting and upcoming meetings with tribal leaders in other regions are just part of the Obama administration’s commitment to re-invigorating nation-to-nation relationships with tribes. And this afternoon’s celebration in Crow Agency made me especially proud of our administration’s support for water rights settlements that will deliver much-needed water to Indian communities such as the Crow Reservation.”
The land consolidation meeting was the first in a series of six scheduled regional meetings that are to take place through October.