Tribal Leaders Want Say In Cobell Settlement - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Tribal Leaders Want Say In Cobell Settlement

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -

Tribal leaders say they feel shut out of decisions in the $1.9 billion federal buyback program as a part of the Cobell Settlement.

Montana tribal leaders told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Thursday that delays in the land buyback program and the lack of transparency from the department of Interior are hurting their tribes financially.

The settlement comes from a 1996 class action lawsuit against the government after Montana tribes found money collected for Indian trust accounts were not being used for their intended purpose.

Elousie Cobell, a Blackfoot tribal member from Montana, discovered the mishandling of those funds and was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Part of the $3.4 billion settlement was a buyback program - allowing landowners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land.

The land will be turned over to the tribes, consolidating highly-fractioned land.

Congressman Steve Daines called for the hearing Thursday to see how the $1.9 billion buyback program was being handled.

The Department of Interior is identifying the pieces of land to buy and turn over to the tribes.

Montana's tribal leaders said they want to be more involved in the process.

"We feel we haven't been a part of the process. We've made several attempts to do that, to send in scope of work," said Mark Azure, Fort Belknap Tribal Council President.

Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Councilman Grant Stafne they should have a say.

"Unfortunately the Cobell Settlement was developed without tribal consultation or input despite the significant impact the settlement would have on tribal lands," Stafne said in a statement.

Tribal leaders say they could help create more jobs if they were involved.

After Thursday's hearing, Congressman Steve Daines said the subcommittee will work to fix the issues brought before them.

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