Friday, January 10, 2014

More than 30,000 Native Americans owed money by U.S. in $3.4B land settlement can't be located

Some Native Americans have become so isolated from society that the federal government can't find many of the Indians who are due part of a $3.4 billion settlement "over royalties for land that was held in trust by the government and never reimbursed in full," Dan Frosch reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Paul McPherson: recipient Ervin Chavez)

"About half a million Indians are eligible for payments, which vary in amount from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how much income their land generated," Frosch writes. "More than 30,000 tribal members have not yet been located. Some may have moved or died or are unaware they are eligible. The government has simply lost track of others. All are owed at least $800, and in many cases, thousands more. The total owed to missing beneficiaries is approximately $32 million, according to Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, a law firm that worked on the settlement and is involved in locating tribal members."

David Smith, a lawyer with the firm, told Frosch, “Historically, there is no question that the government mismanaged these accounts and should have known where these people were. Individual Indians are sometimes some of the poorest people in this country. The absence of that money has caused significant hardship.”

"Since last year, when the first checks were distributed, 293,000 tribal members have received at least a portion of what they are owed," Frosch writes. "A second payment is expected to be made early this year. The Interior Department initially identified 65,000 beneficiaries whose whereabouts were unknown, prompting a sweeping effort to find them. So far, about half of the missing beneficiaries have been found, according to the Garden City Group, a firm appointed by a federal judge in the case to administer the settlement payments." (Read more)

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