The Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the United States have reached a settlement in the Tribe’s breach of trust case, which has been ongoing since 2013, when the Tribe joined nine other tribes in suing the United States for failing to provide an accounting of tribal trust accounts and for mismanaging trust assets and non-monetary trust resources. A major breakthrough in the case came when President Obama’s Administration engaged in government-to-government negotiated settlements of the tribes’ claims. The Tribe settled its claim for $126 million. Attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund, who have brought other similar cases, represented the tribes.
“The Tribe is pleased that the United States has taken accountability for its past actions in breaking the promises it made to tribes,” said Tribal Council in a prepared statement. “Southern Ute has long suffered the effects of the United States’ inability and unwillingness to stand behind its trust responsibility. This settlement will help the Tribe repair the damage that has occurred as a result of this neglect.”
The federal government has held funds and assets in trust accounts for tribes since at least 1820, and presently purports to hold over $2.4 billion in approximately 3,000 trust accounts for over 250 tribes. As the trustee for tribal trust accounts, the United States has a fiduciary duty to provide complete and accurate accountings of funds. The tribes’ complaint alleged that the defendants had not complied with its fiduciary duties. This fact was well established, as even the United States General Accountability Office noted the “countless audit reports and internal studies [that] have detailed a litany of problems in BIA’s control and oversight of [Indian trust] accounts.” The Obama Administration inherited lawsuits by over 100 tribes claiming historical mismanagement of trust funds and assets, and dozens of tribes have reached settlement.
Clement J. Frost, Chairman – 970-563-0100, ext. 2319