Friday, February 21, 2014

"ON THE BIBLE YOU SWORE, FOUGHT YOUR BATTLE WITH LIES"...*

The following excerpt comes from Julia Whitty's "Accounting Coup," an essay which appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Mother Jones. It tells the story of Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Indians of northern Montana, and her tireless efforts to force the U.S. government to pay some 500,000 native Indians all over America the money the Bureau of Indian Affairs has withheld, lost, stolen, and misspent over the course of more than a century -- a tab that, by her estimate, comes to $176 billion:
...Her fight takes the form of Cobell v. Norton, a federal lawsuit on behalf of a half-million Indians across America whose individual property is held in trust by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the BIA. Interior leases these private Indian lands to oil, timber, and agricultural corporations and other commercial entities, then pays the Indians the revenues those leases yield. But Cobell claims the government has been grossly negligent in its 118 years of managing the Individual Indian Trust, treating the Indians not as clients and beneficiaries but as easy marks.
While generations of non-Indians have become rich harvesting the abundant resources of private Indian lands -- which once included virtually all the oil fields of Oklahoma -- Indian landowners have been paid only erratically, and far less than their due. Consequently, even landowning Indians remain among the nation's poorest citizens, joining the 23 percent of Indians in America living in poverty, and the nearly 40 percent who are unemployed. Some tribes fare even worse, and the Blackfeet suffer a 34 percent poverty rate and a 7 percent unemployment rate. Overall, Indians are more than twice as poor as the average American.
Cobell filed her lawsuit in 1996 after years of kinder antreaties failed, demanding payment of all unpaid revenues from Indian leases for the past century, a tally of past revenues, and a new accounting system to deal with future revenues. According to Cobell's forensic accountants, the government owes $176 billion to individual Indian owners, averaging $352,000 per plaintiff, making this momentarily the largest class-action lawsuit ever launched.
If successful, Cobell's lawsuit may force a historical shift of America's capital away from the cowboys -- the oil, gas, timber, mining, grazing, and agricultural industries, along with their political cohorts -- toward the Indians... Not surprisingly, the Clinton and Bush administrations have flexed unprecedented bureaucratic muscle to delay the resolution of Cobell v. Norton, spending hundreds of millions of dollars defending Interior.
...
To those concerned that the United States can't afford a Cobell v. Norton settlement, she says, "It's not your money and never was"...

The "Norton" in the case name is Gale Norton, the current Secretary of the Interior, the department in charge of the BIA. (Note: This case was originally known as Cobell v. Babbitt, the latter being Norton's predecessor, Bruce Babbitt. Norton was appointed by President Bush in 2001, five years after the lawsuit was filed.) Believe it or not, the government is slowly losing this case. The presiding judge, Royce Lamberth, is thoroughly unamused with Interior:
...
The department of the Interior has responded to its ongoing losses in court with tactics the plaintiffs construe as retaliatory and intimidating. In 2004, after Judge Lamberth found the BIA was seizing land owned by Indian trustees without properly informing them of its value or location and selling it to oil companies, he ordered the agency to stop communicating with plaintiffs regarding the sale, conversion, and transfer of land. Interior reacted by shutting down BIA offices and phone lines, telling Indians they would not receive their royalty checks because of the lawsuit. Cobell's name was published on the BIA website -- tacit encouragemnt, she says, for Indians to call and blame her. "It was the dumbest thing they could have done," she says. "I returned every one of those calls and explained what was really going on."
...
Lamberth called these tactics "a testament to the startling inhumanity of government bureaucracy... [and] a deliberate, infantile, and frankly ridiculous misinterpretation of this Court's straightforward order." He added: "The idea that Interior would either instruct or allow BIA to withhold payments and then to stonewall the Indians who dared to ask why is an obscenity that harkens back to the darkest days of United States-Indian relations... The perniciousness and irresponsibility demonstrated by blaming the Court pales in comparison to the utter depravity and moral turpitude displayed by [Interior's] willingness to withhold needed finances from people struggling to survive and support families on subsistence incomes."
...
In 2003, Congress inserted itself into the machinations by attaching midnight riders to omnibus budget and Iraq appropriation bills to delay the court-ordered historical accounting. It also attempted to cut the salary of court-appointed investigators, while permitting Secretary Gale Norton to use discretionary funds to pay for the scores of private attorneys hired by all past and present Interior employees appearing in the case...

Now you may be wondering, what was all that about? Well, I told you all of that in order to prep you for this. I'd go on, but I'm coming down with a migraine, and I need some time to digest what I've already read...
(*: Queen, "White Man")

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