Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Indian Trust Fund Litigation: An Overview of Cobell v. Salazar

Todd Garvey
Legislative Attorney

The settlement reached in Cobell v. Salazar was authorized by the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 on December 8, 2010. Under the terms of the settlement, the United States government will pay $1.4 billion to members of the class who sought to have a historical accounting of their IIM accounts (an abbreviation for Individual Indian Monies). An additional $2 billion will be provided by the government for the purpose of consolidating fractionated trust and restricted lands.

First filed in 1996, Cobell v. Salazar involves the Department of the Interior’s (DOI’s) management of several money accounts. These money accounts, or IIMs, as distinguished from tribal trust funds, are monies which the federal government holds for the benefit of individual Indians. The conflict in the case traces to the federal government’s trust responsibility with respect to American Indians. In the capacity of trustee, the United States holds title to much of Indian tribal land and land allotted to individual Indians. Receipts from leases, timber sales, or mineral royalties are paid to the federal government for disbursement to the appropriate Indian property owners. Flowing from the federal trusteeship of Indian lands and mineral resources are fiduciary responsibilities on the part of the United States to manage Indian monies and assets which have been derived from these lands and are held in trust. However, several of the beneficiaries of these trust funds alleged that DOI mismanaged these funds and filed suit in order to obtain a proper accounting of these funds and to receive damages if warranted.

After more than a decade of litigation over obligations associated with the management of the IIM accounts—consisting of over 3,600 documents and over 20 federal district court and court of appeals opinions—the parties ultimately reached a settlement on December 7, 2009. However, the settlement, which by its terms would create a Trust Administration Fund and a Land Consolidation Fund, required congressional authorization before it could go into effect. A year later, Congress authorized the settlement through the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 (CRA), which was signed by President Obama on December 8, 2010.

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL34628
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail
Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.