Uncle Sam paying $3.4 billion to Native American land owners

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Check for $1,000 each are already in the mail to hundreds of thousands of American Indians, including a large population here in Oklahoma, for the federal government's mishandling of land trust royalties.

It's part of the Individual Indian Trust Settlement, an agreement reached in Cobell v. Salazar, which marked the largest government class-action settlement in our nation's history.

If you own land that others use for farming or oil production, you should make money as well.

Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet tribe leader from Montana, filed the lawsuit in 1996, because she observed people making money from natural resources on leased Indian land, while the Indians remained in poverty.

She claimed the U.S. government did not account for royalties held in trust for them for over a century.

"I'm on social security, so I make a thousand dollars a month," said Reynolds French in Anadarko Wednesday afternoon.  "That ain't enough to quite get it there."

But earlier this year, French, who is a member of the Delaware Nation tribe, received a $7,000 check.

It was money owed to him from oil and land leases on his property, however, the wrong company was getting paid the royalties that should have gone to him a long time ago.

"He (Bureau of Indian Affairs) said that went back six years, and we just now caught it," French said.  "The explanation of it, you've got me."

Clifford Peacock is the Delaware Nation Treasurer.

"Obviously anytime that you have a gain from someone else's land or property, they should be entitled to a percentage or a part of it," Peacock said.

He recently received a $1,000 check in the mail, thanks to Cobell's lawsuit.

"We have lost so many Indian people that have been waiting for justice for so long, and we can't wait any longer," Cobell said in a video on www.indiantrust.com.

The U.S. government agreed to a $3.4 billion settlement two years ago.

Those $1,000 checks are now going out to nearly 350,000 beneficiaries.

Many consider Cobell a hero.

"Well she did it for all the people," French said.  "All the native tribes in the United States."

Sadly, Elouise Cobell lost her battle with cancer in 2011.

Both Peacock and French said these checks are arriving at the perfect time; just before Christmas.

For more information about the settlement and to find out if you qualify for a settlement check, log on to www.indiantrust.com.

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