BIA settlement closes; Alaska tribal groups net $100M

The enormous $940 million class-action lawsuit against the BIA on behalf of tribes cleared the last court hurdle today in New Mexico. The case stems from decades of short-funding tribal contracts. More than $100 million will be awarded to tribal organizations in Alaska. (A full list of the settlements is online here.)

Download Audio

The settlement is similar to one reached with the Indian Health Service last year, that also found tribes had agreed to contract amounts for tribal services but were then shorted the funds, or in some cases, not awarded any money at all for the signed contracts with the federal government.

The Ramah Navajo tribe started the suit which eventually became a class-action for hundreds of tribes and tribal organizations across the nation. The suit covered BIA tribal contracts from 1994 until 2013. After the tribes won, notices went out to them laying out the settlement.

Lloyd Miller is one of the attorneys working the case for tribes. He says a November deadline for tribes to object to the settlement terms passed with no disagreement.

“Which was stunning to us, a settlement that involves this kind of money, people are experienced with Cobell, which was controversial, not here and these are tribes able to get a lot of money. None objected to anything.”

Although no tribes objected to the amounts or the terms, Miller says, they did hear from tribes that had been missed.

“And the database the BIA used to develop the master list was incomplete. So we found another database. And from that database we picked up another 55 tribes and tribal organizations — many of them Alaska. So now we have a total of 699 Alaska Native villages, American Indian tribes and intertribal organizations.”

He says the incomplete lists were the result of software changes within the BIA over the course of the 20 years the litigation has been ongoing.

“We were tasked with trying to combine software from many different sources and produce a master database that we could use in the case. We needed to use that software to do a statistical sampling of the whole class — of all 10,000 contractors, contract years that were at issue in the case. I hope that the BIA takes this to heart. We can’t get them ordered to do record-keeping in a certain way, but I think they’ve learned a sobering lesson in finding out that they missed 55 tribes.”

Miller says today’s hearing was the last check in with the court after the additional tribal groups had been included in the settlement. He says Judge James Parker should issue his final orders in the case within two weeks. Payments ranging from tens of millions to tens of thousands will be issued toward spring. Miller says 209 tribes in Alaska will receive more than 123 million dollars.

Previous articleFairbanks paper adds new publisher after sale
Next articleWeather, land rule cancel Tustumena 200 race
Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori