Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

The Cobell lawsuit involved the mismanagement of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.
The Cobell lawsuit involved the mismanagement of Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts.
Black Hills Knowledge Network photo/Chelsea Gortmaker
May 21, 2014

Cobell Settlement

Cobell v. Salazar

Cobell v. Salazar (the defendant was the Secretary of the Interior, so the case name changed with the position) was a class action lawsuit filed in 1996. Elouise Cobell, a banker and a member of the Blackfoot tribe, found that there were discrepancies in the management of lands held in trust for the tribes by the United States government. Income from leasing the land or natural resources goes into Individual Indian Money accounts (IIM). The lawsuit asserted that the government had not properly accounted for payment to IIM accounts and owners of accounts were owed billions. The case carried on for fifteen years, before being settled for $3.4 billion. That amount would be divided into $1.5 billion in payments to IIM owners, $60 million to provide Native Americans access to higher education, and $1.9 billion as the Trust Land Consolidation Fund for tribal government to purchase trust land and bring it back under communal ownership.

Settlement Payments

The settlement above was reached in December 2009. The following year, the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 was passed which would fund the settlement. The Indian Trust Settlement website was set up by the plaintiffs' lawyers to hold updates on the resolution and provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Distribution of payments was delayed by legal challenges to the settlement. Once these were resolved, payments could start.

Two classes of plaintiffs were identified. The first, the Historical Accounting Class, was anyone with an open IIM account between October 25, 1994 and September 30, 2009. Members of this class would receive a payment of $1000.

The second, the Trust Administration Class, covered a wider group with IIM accounts dating back to approximately 1985, or had ownership interest in a trust land. Members of this class will receive a variable amount based on the IIM account's income, but a minimum for $500 (though expected to be a minimum of $800). Payment for this class were delayed until a substantial portion of the class has been identified. According to Indian Trust Settlement, there are over 30,000 members of the Trust Administration Class listed as Whereabouts Unknown.

September 11, 2014, an order was issued to begin distribution. Checks were sent out starting on September 15.


Indian Trust Settlement is the main site for any information on the Cobell Settlement. They can also be contacted by phone or email, 1-800-961-6109 or [email protected]. Besides current information, the site also has archives of court reports and past communications by Eloise Cobell.

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have set up their own site with information on the settlement. They include information and steps to filing your claim.

Department of the Interior's FAQ page on the settlement.

Articles and information related to the Cobell settlement in the archive.

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