LANDER - A $10.5 million settlement with the federal government should help the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes enhance services to tribal members, an Eastern Shoshone leader said this week.
The tribes' Joint Business Council said the tentative settlement stems from litigation against the federal government over mismanagement of the tribes' mineral estate.
The Joint Business Council had approved the settlement in December. Final approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Justice Department is expected within a week or so, and the money paid before spring.
"We hope to use the money to enhance services," said Ivan Posey, chairman of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council.
When the money is paid, it will be divided evenly between the tribes. Within each tribe, 85 percent of the money will be paid out in monthly per capita payments, and 15 percent will go into the tribal treasury account.
There are about 7,500 Arapaho tribe members and about 3,600 Shoshone.
Last summer, the Department of Justice approved a $12 million payment to the tribes that stemmed from a 2004 agreement reached by the disputing groups. That settlement and this most recent settlement are just parts of a larger, ongoing lawsuit between tribes and the federal government on mismanagement of funds and mineral resources.
The first part of the litigation relates to the government's failure to collect proper royalties on Wind River Indian Reservation oil and gas production from October 1973 to Dec. 31, 2000, according to a news release from the tribes. The tribes said oil and gas companies consistently underpaid royalties, and the government failed to protect tribal rights.
The earlier $12 million payment was the principal amount of the mismanagement claim for those years. A series of rulings determined that the tribes could also collect interest on that $12 million, but the rates of interest due in different years were not decided and were disputed by the parties.
According to the news release, the tribes hired investment experts to compute rates reasonable for investments in the years in question. Working with the Washington, D.C., law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Enderson and Perry, tribal chairmen Posey of the Shoshone and Richard Brannan of the Arapaho agreed to the $10.5 million settlement.
The first settlement for the tribes was $2.75 million in 2001 for claims relating to sand and gravel being removed from the reservation. Claims of trust mismanagement, oil and gas claims not relating to royalties and claims for mismanagement of royalties before 1973 remain in dispute.
"It might go all the way back to 1960," said Posey, referring to a number of specific items of mismanagement that have not been litigated.
In 1979, the tribes brought suit in the U.S. Court of Claims, alleging that the federal government breached fiduciary and statutory duties owed to the tribes from Aug. 14, 1946, onward by mismanaging the reservation's natural resources and the income derived from such resources.
The date of Aug. 14, 1946, chosen by the tribes coincides with the passage of the Indian Claims Commission Act. That law provided a five-year window during which tribes could submit to the Indian Claims Commission all of their claims against the government that accrued before Aug. 13, 1946.
Courts have held that claims accruing before Aug. 13, 1946, that were not filed with the commission by Aug. 13, 1951, cannot be submitted to any court, administrative agency or Congress.
Brodie Farquhar is a freelance writer based in Lander. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.