The Trail of Tears Continues

Although the Trail of Tears is not well known to most Americans, it portrays the plight of Native Americans in dealing with the U.S. Government. The so called Indian wars were responsible for the forced relocation of Indian tribes into Western territories. They were given thirty million acres of land as reservations "for as long as the eagle flies". By the year 1877, Westward expansion had reached the Reservations, and the U.S. Government decided to sell two thirds to white settlers. The remainder was divided into 100 acre parcels and deeded to individual Indians. The Federal Government said it would hold these lands in trust. Oh my, there is that word again. To put it kindly, somehow the records were misaligned. In testimony presented before Congress, the U.S. Government has indeed acknowledged that the Trust Fund generates $500 million a year in revenue for oil and mineral development. However, Indians leaders have long complained about a lack of accounting and payments which they viewed as inadequate. In 1996, a $10 billion class action suit was filed on behalf of more than 300,000 American Indians. The trial summarized a damning picture of the inept handling of the Trust Funds. Investigators discovered that some money that was owed was never collected. Some that was collected was spent on other purposes. Moreover, a century worth of records was destroyed by the Government. The court was not amused. In an unprecedented move, it held Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in contempt for failing to halt the destruction of these records. U.S. Judge Royce Lamberth said, "I have never seen more egregious misconduct by the Federal Government." In 1999, ruling in favor of the Indians, he ordered the Interior Department to account for the funds and to revamp the system of payments to provide a more accurate accounting. The Department of the Interior could not comply with the Judge's order and simply cut off payments altogether to thousands of recipients. The Bureau Of Indian Affairs' web site blamed the lawsuit for the payment failures. The U.S. Government denies (of course) that this was done in retaliation. In the Fall of 2002, the case was in court again. A new Interior Secretary, Gale Norton, was held in contempt on five counts for failing to repair the problem and for providing the Judge with false reports. The Judge's scathing ruling said, "I have never seen such a concerted effort to subvert the truth-seeking function of the judicial process." To date, the Department of the Interior has spent over $600 million. Further, it proposes spending an additional $2.5 billion over the next 10 years to reconstruct the records that were lost. Although the Indians say that they are owed over $100 billion, the U.S. Government says they don't know what they owe. Chances are the amount will be hefty.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.