The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that the Obama administration has agreed to pay a settlement of $940 million to 645 American Indian tribes.        

 

This large settlement covers the cost of previous underpaid federal contracts for tribal programs, such as education, healthcare, and law enforcement. Funding was given for these programs, but there were numerous contract costs that were left for the tribes to pay out of pocket. Some of the tribal leaders tried to cover the remaining fees, but it was too much money and caused many to go without much needed support programs.

 

Native American schoolhouse

Native American education has gone extremely underfunded as a result of unpaid contracts. (livemint.com)

The Ramah Navajo chapter first sparked this lawsuit in 1990 by bringing their complaints to the New Mexico Federal District Court. Although they lost in the lower court, they pushed on and took their lawsuit to the Supreme Court, along with many other American Indian tribes.

 

“This agreement was long in the making — each only after years of complex negotiations — and both sides can be proud of the result,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Mizer.

 

Tribe leaders also expressed their satisfaction for the settlement offered by the Obama administration, while others think more needs to be done. President John Yellowbird Steele of the Oglala Sioux Tribe said that he’s “very satisfied with this settlement, but in other areas of those treaty obligations we need to work like we did here.”

 

If this settlement is approved by a federal judge, every tribe involved is likely to receive their portion of the funds within the next 10 months. According to attorney Michael Gross, the lowest amount of money tribes will receive from this settlement is $8,000. However, some will receive millions of dollars to compensate for the underfunded contracts.

 

These tribes are not only gaining compensation for past contract disputes, but future contract fees may be covered for them in the future. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stated, “we are committed to fully funding contract support costs, so that tribal contracting can be more successful.”       

 

How will this money affect tribes across the United States? Is the sum of the settlement awarded to them enough? Leave a comment or talk to me on Twitter @Karbowski_Devon.