Monday, October 04, 2004

U.S. Is Ordered to Tell Indians Before Selling Trust Property

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 - A federal judge has ruled that the government must notify American Indian landowners before it seeks to sell property from a trust it manages that collects revenue from oil, timber and grazing leases and other activities on Indian land.

It is the first time such a practice has been required, the Indians say, in the nearly 120 years that the Department of the Interior has administered the fund, called the Indian Trust.

The ruling on Wednesday is part of a complex class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Elouise Cobell, a banker and Blackfoot from Montana, on behalf of nearly a half-million Indians who contend that during more than a century the government has cheated them of about $137 billion in royalties from the leases. The government pays beneficiaries a total of more than $500 million each year from the fund, which exceeds $3 billion dollars.