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Ask Elouise
December 28, 2010

Dear Indian Country

This is the seventeenth letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement.

On December 21, 2010, the district court granted preliminary approval for the settlement and approved the plan to provide notice to the class. “Notice” is how members of a class are informed about their rights and obligations when a class action case settles. This is a necessary first step that must be taken before funds may be sent to class members in a case that has settled.

The judge’s preliminary approval order establishes a number of important deadlines. The notice period starts on January 20, 2011. This is the date that the long form notice will commence to be sent to all class members with valid addresses that are maintained by the Department of the Interior and an extensive media campaign will start. Notices will be published in newspapers and magazines and they will be aired on television and radio in Indian Country and in other areas of the country where many class members live. We will also begin an extensive series of meetings around Indian Country to explain the settlement and answer your questions.

If you do not receive a long form notice in the mail, you can request that one be sent to you by going to this website or by calling this toll-free number:

 

Internet:

https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php

 

 

Telephone:

1-800-961-6109

 

The judge also has said that if you wish to opt-out of, or object to, the settlement, you should do so by April 20, 2011. Instructions on how to opt-out or object will be included in the long form notice.

Finally, if you wish to appear at the fairness hearing and explain your objections personally to the Court, you should review the long form notice for instructions on how to do so. The judge has scheduled the fairness hearing for June 20, 2011. Any of the dates discussed above may change as ordered by the Court.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a “frequently asked questions” section while includes the most common questions we’ve received as well as questions and answers from prior Ask Elouise letters: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. With so many members of the class, I can’t answer every question that you send.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

 

Internet:

https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php

 

 

Telephone:

1-800-961-6109

 

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.


Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Best wishes

Elouise Cobell
Browning, Montana

 

Ask Elouise week of August 10, 2010

August 10, 2010

Dear Indian Country

This is the thirteenth letter in a series of open letters that I’m sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement.

Since my last Ask Elouise letter, I have been monitoring the Senate and its consideration of the supplemental bill funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to which we were attached by the House some time ago. Unfortunately, Senate leadership stripped our authorizing legislation from the war appropriations bill for political reasons unrelated to the merits of our settlement.

It is a difficult political environment on Capitol Hill, with a number of Members focused on reelection politics, not our much needed legislation. Our legislation efforts are complicated by record deficits, a weak national economy, and the requirement that $2 billion of our settlement be paid for through spending or revenue “off-sets.” This year, most legislation, excluding emergency spending legislation, has designated off-sets, but off-sets have become very controversial because each political party has its own views on the “acceptable off-sets.” Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly taken our identified off-sets that were deemed widely acceptable to support other bills that were more important to Senate leadership and the Administration. And, unfortunately, the Administration has been unwilling to designate any of the billions of dollars of unspent economic stimulus funds to ensure passage of our settlement bill. This has forced us to start over repeatedly as our Congressional allies have to work even harder to identify other possible acceptable off-sets.

Throughout the rest of the session which ended August 5, I and our attorneys continued to work with our allies in the Senate to get attached to a bill that the Senate would pass. Before the Senate recessed, leadership brought our case to a vote through a procedure called “unanimous consent.” This simply means that the Senate could pass the bill so long as no Senator objects; if any Senator objects, the bill does not pass. This measure did not pass as a result of Senator Barrasso’s (R-WY) ongoing objection to the settlement. As I reported in an earlier Ask Elouise letter, Senator Barrasso hasn’t made a secret of his desire to kill the settlement, going against the will of the tribes in his own state and all but a handful of disgruntled critics.

It is becoming more likely that Congress will not pass settlement legislation. Indeed, it is unusual for any settlement or judgment to be conditioned on political acceptance by Congress. The Judgment Fund, a permanently appropriated fund, was created decades ago by Congress to pay for all settlements and judgments against the United States. It has two purposes: first, to exclude final judgments and settlements against the United States from the uncertainties of the political process and, second, to restore the reputation of the United States, which had become a “deadbeat” nation. Simply put, “politics” routinely blocked payment of the government’s debt obligations. Sadly, we seem to be heading that way again. Our settlement agreement was executed on December 7, 2009 – over eight months ago – and, I know of no reason to believe that our prospects will improve as we get closer to the mid-term elections. In fact, they are likely to get worse.

Nevertheless, after endless hearings and debates in Congress about our case and its settlement, we have gathered a massive amount of support from Members of Congress. I am informed that if we ever come to a vote in the Senate that we have sufficient votes to safely beat any filibuster. For this reason, I have carefully considered our options, consulted with scores of beneficiaries, listened to their concerns, and talked to our attorneys before making a decision to extend the agreement for what is likely to be the last time. I’m especially mindful of the fact that the vast majority of beneficiaries want this settlement to work because it is a fair deal. For these reasons, I’ve decided to extend the settlement agreement through October 15, 2010.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a "frequently asked questions" section which includes the most common questions we've received as well as questions and answers from prior Ask Elouise letters: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. With so many members of the class, I can't answer every question that you send.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet:
Telephone:
https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
1-800-961-6109

 

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Best wishes

Elouise Cobell
Browning, Montana
 

Ask Elouise week of July 7, 2010

July 7, 2010

Dear Indian Country

This is the twelfth letter in a series of open letters that I'm sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement and to answer your most relevant questions.

As I reported in the last letter, the House of Representatives voted to pass the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010" ("the Tax Extenders Bill") before the Memorial Day holiday which included a provision authorizing the Cobell settlement. Unfortunately, on June 30, 2010, I learned our settlement would not be considered in a new version of the Senate Tax Extenders Bill. The new version failed to pass and the Senate could possibly consider it again in July. There is still a chance that we may be re-attached to that Bill, but the future of the Tax Extenders Bill is uncertain.

Following the failure of the Senate to pass the Tax Extenders Bill, our allies in the House of Representatives rallied to include our settlement on the war supplemental bill funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars then being considered. This bill was passed by the House on the evening of July 1, 2010. The Senate did not consider the bill and is now on recess until Monday, July 12, 2010. We are urging our allies in the Senate to pass the war supplemental with the Cobell settlement.

The parties agreed to extend the settlement until July 9, 2010, so yet another extension is required if we are to give the Senate a chance to pass legislation. I will consult our attorneys and allies on the Hill about that extension over the next few days.

In your last letter, you mentioned that Senator Barrasso (R - WY), Vice-Chairman, Senator Committee on Indian Affairs introduced an amendment that he says would "improve" the settlement agreement even though it would terminate the settlement, what is the status of his amendment? Thanks to your overwhelming support, Senator Barrasso was unable to bring his amendment to the floor for a vote. Your letters and calls to members of Congress had a significant impact on the outcome. Unfortunately, Senator Barrasso still doesn't understand, or doesn't care, that Indian Country overwhelmingly supports this settlement. According to statements reported in the press, he is more determined than ever to rob you of your victory in this case and it is likely that he again will attempt to introduce an amendment to terminate the settlement at some time in the future. We remain on guard against his efforts to further harm individual Indians.

You also mentioned that the National Congress of American Indians was considering a resolution supporting the Barrasso amendment, what is the status of that resolution? I attended the NCAI event in Rapid City, South Dakota beginning June 20, 2010. A small, rabid group of tribal representatives sought to support Senator Barrasso's amendment and, thereby, kill your settlement, but their effort was defeated soundly and NCAI passed a resolution urging Congress to reject the Barrasso amendment and pass authorizing legislation as soon as possible. It is important to remember that this class is made up solely of individual Indians trust beneficiaries; tribes have their own litigation (and, at times, the agenda of a few tribal leaders is inconsistent with individual Indians' interests), but they don't represent your interests in this litigation.

Will any Interior contractors with experience on Indian issues be selected to assist with the distribution of settlement proceeds or to hold the funds pending distribution? Absolutely not. This is a conflict of interest. To allow the same contractors, who have been peddling their services that fail to deliver promised benefits to Indian Country, to have any role in the distribution of settlement funds would be insane. For the first time in history, your funds will be held securely, managed prudently, and distributed competently by able and experienced professionals. I know of no Interior contractors that meet the highest fiduciary standards that you are owed.

Where can I review the amount of time the attorneys have spent on the litigation? Pursuant to an agreement between the parties, statements regarding counsels' billing rates and related records supporting daily time, expense and cost records will be filed with the Court and available to the public. This documentation will be filed no later than 30 days following preliminary approval of the settlement agreement by the Court. Preliminary approval by the Court cannot occur unless and until Congress authorizes the settlement.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a "frequently asked questions" section while includes the most common questions we've received as well as questions and answers from prior Ask Elouise letters: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. With so many members of the class, I can't answer every question that you send. These Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet:
Telephone:
https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
1-800-961-6109

 

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Best wishes

Elouise Cobell
Browning, Montana
 

Ask Elouise week of June 15, 2010

June 15, 2010

Dear Indian Country

This is the eleventh letter in a series of open letters that I'm sending to Indian Country. The purpose of this letter is to update you about the settlement and to let you know what you can do to help.

Before the Memorial Day holiday, the House of Representatives voted to pass the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010" which includes a provision authorizing the Cobell settlement. This is good news and we now await approval in the Senate. I hope that the Senate passes the bill before the July 4 recess, but there is a chance that might not happen.

Individual Indian trust beneficiaries have expressed their overwhelming support for this settlement. Not only does it put $1.4 billion into the hands of individual Indians in a relatively short period of time, but it promises to make another $2 billion available to individual Indians over the next ten years, preserve sacred Indian lands for future generations and create a fund for post-secondary education worth up to $60 million. This is the largest settlement/judgment against the United States since the founding of the Republic and we have a unique opportunity to right an historic injustice. For these reasons I intend to direct our attorneys to work with the government to extend the settlement agreement yet again so that justice may have a chance. However, every extension of time delays the distribution of our settlement funds. Enough is enough. Further, there are a few tribal leaders in Indian Country, some with misguided intentions, who want to terminate the settlement for their own personal purposes.

Senator Barrasso (R - WY), Vice-Chairman, Senator Committee on Indian Affairs, has introduced an amendment that he says would "improve" the settlement agreement. However, the agreement provides that the settlement terminates if there are any changes to its terms. Senator Barrasso knows this and he knows that adoption of his amendment would kill the settlement. Why? He is playing Washington politics because the dirty truth is that he would vote against the current Senate bill even if his amendment is adopted.

Tribal leaders should know better (and most do) than to support a new Senator from Wyoming who rarely, if ever, has supported Indians. Senator Barrasso has made an effort to gain support from certain leaders in Indian Country for his amendment. He argues that his amendment really does not make significant changes to the settlement. Of course, most tribal leaders and individual Indian trust beneficiaries are not buying it. Still, there are a few wrong-headed tribal leaders who support his plan to kill our agreement. If your tribal leaders are voting to change the settlement in any way, they are helping Senator Barrasso kill our settlement and they are depriving you of your money. They do not deserve your vote and should be voted out of office if they stand for re-election. Have your friends and family demand that their tribal representatives support our settlement.

Understanding who is with us and who is against us is important because the National Congress of American Indians says that it will consider a resolution that would help Senator Barrasso kill the Cobell settlement during its conference June 20-23, 2010. If you don't know whether your representative to NCAI is with you on Cobell, make sure you find out in advance. Any legislative changes to the settlement agreement will terminate the settlement.

Let me also stress that most tribal leaders support our settlement. I thank each of you for resisting the efforts of Senator Barrasso and his staff to undermine what we have achieved.

Will the Native American Bank hold the settlement funds or have any role in distribution? I am the Chair of Native American Bank and I have been asked whether Native American Bank would handle or otherwise be involved in the distribution of our settlement funds. The answer is no. The settlement agreement sets forth standards for selection of a federally insured depository institution that would hold and distribute the settlement funds. Only well capitalized commercial banks with trust powers are eligible for selection (and, the Native American Bank has no trust powers). Only banks with highly rated trust departments and proven experience and skill in the distribution of class action mega-settlements will be considered for this important task. We must be sure that prompt and accurate distributions are made by bankers who understand fully the nature and scope of their fiduciary duties to you. Anything less isn't good enough.

Does this settlement resolve any future claims? No. The settlement agreement resolves only covered claims through September 30, 2009. It does not resolve any claims that may accrue after September 30, 2009. A list of claims not covered by the settlement agreement (e.g., pre-September 30, 2009 claims that may be brought against the government) can be reviewed here and here. For a complete list of claims, you should consult the settlement agreement.

What does settlement of the Cobell case mean for the tribes and tribal trust cases? Tribes are not parties in our case and would receive no funds from our settlement. Nevertheless, they are beneficiaries of our settlement. We have over 80 published decisions and an encyclopedia of factual findings that have been established in Cobell regarding the government's trust duties, information technology security, and the destruction of trust records and information. Volumes have been written on the government's breaches of trust. This material provides a free roadmap to litigation success and it is readily available to tribes in connection with their trust litigation against the government if they decide to actually litigate their cases. On the other hand, I understand that most tribal cases have been dormant (while they have observed our litigation) and their attorneys would prefer a quick settlement so they don't need to spend the time and resources required to litigate effectively against the United States government. Nonetheless, such tribes and their attorneys are likely to be disappointed because it is also my understanding from conversations with senior Interior and Justice officials and certain tribal attorneys that there will be no settlement with any tribe if Cobell is not settled.

Finally, tribes will benefit directly from the $2 billion land consolidation program which would result in the largest restoration of land to Indian tribes in the history of the United States. It still amazes me that tribal leaders would oppose our multi-billion dollar settlement that so clearly benefits them and their members - even though they, themselves, didn't do anything to help us. However, this is not the first time in our history that some of our leaders have decided to sacrifice individual Indian interests for their political gain. I am working hard to see that they fail and urge you to do the same.

Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website:
http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a "frequently asked questions" section while includes the most common questions we've received as well as questions and answers from prior Ask Elouise letters: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. With so many members of the class, I can't answer every question that you send. The Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet:
Telephone:
https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
1-800-961-6109

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Best wishes

Elouise Cobell
Browning, Montana
 

Ask Elouise week of May 3, 2010

May 4, 2010

Dear Indian Country

This is the tenth letter in a series of open letters that I'm sending to Indian Country to answer questions you have asked me about settlement of the Cobell class action lawsuit. Prior Ask Elouise letters can be found on the settlement website: http://cobellsettlement.com/class/ask_elouise.php. We also have a "frequently asked questions" section which includes the most common questions we've received as well as questions and answers from prior Ask Elouise letters: http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php. With so many members of the class, I can't answer every question that you send. The Ask Elouise letters will answer as many questions as possible that are relevant to the entire class.

The most common question I receive every week relates to whether a particular person is included in this settlement. Unfortunately, I do not have that information. The settlement agreement provides general guidelines (see also http://cobellsettlement.com/press/faq.php), but I also understand that many of you have unique or unusual circumstances, which make it unclear to me whether you are included in the settlement class. For those of you who still have questions, I recommend that you register to receive all Court-ordered communications to ensure you do not miss important information. There is no need to register if you are receiving a quarterly IIM statement. The Court ultimately will determine who is included in this settlement. Registration information can be found at the end of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

The deadline for Congress to enact legislation has been extended by order of the district court to May 28, 2010 and many beneficiaries also have asked how they can contribute to a successful resolution of this case. I always have said that you need to call or write your Senators and Representatives in Congress to let them know how you feel about the settlement. We have now uploaded a form letter that you can update with your representatives' information and send to them. This form letter can be uploaded by clicking here. Contact information for your representatives can be located here. We need all the help we can get and your letters and calls to Congress are being heard. Thank you, in advance.

I heard that Senator Barrasso sent a letter to tribal leaders trying to kill the settlement, is this true? Yes. It is unfortunate that Senator Barrasso from Wyoming (Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs) has come out against settlement of this long-running litigation which is of utmost concern to Indian Country. On April 27, 2010, Senator Barrasso sent a letter to all tribal leaders proposing to change the settlement agreement because he says that his changes would "improve the settlement." That is not true. The Senator and his staff know that their proposed changes are material and necessarily would kill the settlement that we have worked so hard to reach. What is particularly disappointing to me is that I sat down with Senator Barrasso in his office to discuss the terms of settlement. The only major issue he raised in our meeting was the reasonableness of the agreed-upon attorneys' fees, which I said are low because of the size of the recovery and the hard work done by our counsel. He looked me in the eye following my explanation and told me to my face that the settlement is OK with him. In fact, his attorney, who sat across from me, told him that the attorneys' fees are fair. Frankly, the attorneys' fees are very low - a maximum of 3% of our recovery - compared to the 25%-40% and more that attorneys typically are paid when they successfully sue bad doctors for medical malpractice. Think of the amount of time our lawyers have spent on this case (14 years) and the risk they took to achieve for you the largest settlement with the government in history.

So, what does this mean for the settlement? Nobody ever said working with Congress would be easy or that we would receive unanimous support, no matter how just our cause. I and our attorneys will continue to push Congress to do the right thing and pass legislation authorizing the settlement. It's difficult to predict what the impact of his letter might be. I hope that he will come to his senses and realize that this is the best deal possible for all parties at this point in time, but if he doesn't there will (hopefully) be a vote and he can have his counted. In the mean time, Senator Barrasso's letter underscores how important it is for all of you - including those of us who live in Wyoming - to write your representatives in Congress and urge them to pass legislation without further delay.

Do I have to fill out paperwork to be included in the settlement? You do not have to fill out paperwork if you are receiving a quarterly IIM account statement - the Court will order that communications be sent to you directly. However, if you think you might be included in the settlement and you are not receiving quarterly IIM account statements, you should make sure to register for all Court-ordered communications. By registering, you ensure that you will receive important information from the Court about your rights and obligations as a potential member of the class. If you are not receiving quarterly IIM account statements, it is possible that you will have to fill out some paperwork to be included in the settlement. This information will be included in the Court-ordered communications. Instructions for how to register are at the bottom of this and every Ask Elouise letter.

Is this a per-account payment or a per-person payment? The settlement will result in payments to individual Indian class members. Individuals will only receive one payment as a member of a class. That means you could receive one payment as a member of the historical account class and a second payment as a member of the trust administration class.

If you are not currently receiving an IIM statement from the government, please remember to register for correspondence over the Internet or by calling the number below.

Internet:
Telephone:
https://cert.tgcginc.com/iim/register.php
1-800-961-6109

 

If you have a question, send an e-mail to: askelouise@cobellsettlement.com. Otherwise you can send me a letter to the address below. To expedite the processing of your letters our contractor has set up a post office box in Ohio, but I assure you this letter is coming from me and I will see your letters.

Ask Elouise
Cobell Settlement
PO Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

Thank you and keep your questions coming!

Best wishes

Elouise Cobell
Browning, Montana