Tag Archives: Tides Foundation

Reaching the 30,000 Indians Still Owned Cobell Trust Land Royalties?

News_Upfront1-1New Orleans    This may seem quaint to some people.  Why in the world would I be calling out to American Indians far and wide on the Chief Organizer Blog and over the radio and other channels? 

            A lot of reasons, though all of them start with Elouise Cobell, a Native American banker and businesswoman from Montana, who filed suit in 1996 against the Interior Department for the U.S. Government’s mismanagement of the royalties due Indian landowners through careless and almost nonexistent accounting systems.   I was fortunate to serve for many years on the board of the Tides Foundation with Elouise and while chair of that board every meeting she attended would ask her at some point to report on the tedious, drug out process of the lawsuit for which she was the main plaintiff.  Eventually, the demands of the lawsuit and the endless and usually unproductive stops-and-starts at settlement negotiations with different Presidential administrations forced her to resign from the board simply because they were so time consuming.  Finally, in frustration, Elouise and others settled for big money, though far less than the enormous sums they should have received for $3.5 billion because they couldn’t stand seeing more beneficiaries pass away without their allotment.  Not too much longer Eloise passed away herself.

 Understand the trust.  First it dates back over 100 years, and is based on the fact that Indians were given land allotments through various treaties, and the government was involved in leasing oil, gas, and other rights to the land, and was supposedly holding the royalties they received in a trust for the Indian landowners.  You can hear it now, another broken treaty and another rip-off, and in fact that’s exactly what was happening.  Some got something, but few got the right amounts. The amount owed was so huge that the Government’s basic reaction to the Indian claims was to delay as long as possible to mitigate the settlement, but make no mistake, everyone knew the day would come where they would have to pay, the only question was how much people would benefit.  The problem now is that not only was the accounting bad, but the government was equally careless over all of the years of the trust and the subsequent litigation in keeping the list current of the almost half-million beneficiaries.

            Almost 300,000 Indians have received some portion of the settlement from $800 to a couple of thousand, though some are owned five and six figure amounts.  From jump the Interior department knew 65000 trust holders were unknown, and some better-late-than-never work has cut the figure to 30,000, but that’s a lot of people owed a lot of money, more than $30 million.  And, another payment is set to be sent soon.

            The government’s excuse is that the reservations are sparsely populated and far reaching, but my bet is that few still living in Indian Country on the rez have not heard the news that money may be waiting for them.  My bet is that the bulk of the 30,000 are in our cities and throughout the US diaspora, which includes any and all within the sound of my voice or the sight of these words. 

            And, not surprisingly, there are shysters trying to scam potential beneficiaries by grabbing their bank account numbers so they can rip-off the settlements claiming they are representing the trust.  It never seems to end.

            Regardless, if anyone thinks they might be eligible or knows someone somewhere who might be owed a payment then do the following:

Call Toll-Free: 1-800-961-6109

Email: Info@IndianTrust.com

Or Mail: Indian Trust Settlement
P.O. Box 9577
Dublin, OH 43017-4877

            Or go on their website, www.indiantrust.com where I love the fact that they include an Ask Elouise column even now, three years past her death.

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Tides Recognizes BP Environmental Warriors on Long Gulf Coast Marathon Fight

Casey Budesilich from Tides with Awardees Brenda Robichaux and Marylee Orr

New Orleans     Twenty-two years ago the Tides Foundation began giving the Jane Bagley Lehman Public Advocacy Awards on an almost annual basis to largely unrecognized local grassroots organizers and activists making a huge difference on major issues in what I have always called “the vineyards.”  During my more than 30 years on the board of Tides from its founding 37 years ago by Drummond Pike until I went on senior status in 2009, the most fun thing I ever got to do was help decide and give out the JBL’s with Drummond, Russell Long and Susan Carmichael, Jane’s children, and Andrea Kydd, my old friend and comrade, much missed but now also gone.   From the minute I heard that the JBL’s were going to recognize advocates who had stepped up for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in the face of last year’s British Petroleum (BP) oil spill disaster, I started lobbying for various local freedom fighters and for the opportunity for Fair Grinds Coffeehouse  to be able to host the awards ceremony in our 2nd floor Common Space.

The awards winners and those in the final four were amazing.  Brenda Dardar-Robichaux, former chief of the Houma Nation and a longtime advocate and organizer in defense of the Louisiana bayou country, coast area, and cultural traditions and livelihoods was there with her husband, Mike “Doctor Mike” Robichaux, her father, and a lot of her family from the Raceland area.  The other winner was Marylee Orr, the long time executive director of the well known, Baton Rouge-based, Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), that is always at the table hammering away on the policy side.  Close behind the winner’s circle was our New Orleans-based, Gulf Coast advocate, Aaron Viles of the Gulf Coast Restoration Network, who was also present for the ceremony.

It was a great event with Rosa King and Casey Budesilich coming down from San Francisco to preside and present.  Zee Thornton, Fair Grinds’ Manager, went over the line and saved Tides a small fortune by personally catering the event and drawing on her old tricks working as a line chef at some of New Orleans’ best restaurants.  We just about had to chase people away after closing.   Fantastic!

On the other hand, every conversation I had was disturbing with the winners.  Aaron and Marylee both mentioned conversations with activists in Alaska continuing to warn that based on their experience with Exxon and the Valdez spill, this could be a 20 to 30 year battle.  Viles was not ready to concede that BP could be his life mission.  Aaron kept shaking his head that BP thus far had spent more in PR and “brand” protection in the media, than they had in actual Gulf Coast restoration, despite all of their claims.

Everyone believed the biggest danger was dispersants; the chemicals used to “breakup” the spill.  The after affects are not known, but continue to be seen as the biggest lurking danger.   Zee’s oyster dressing was the best I had ever had, but Brenda’s family told Beth Butler from A Community Voice that they, sadly, were still afraid to eat oysters since the spill.

Dr. Mike caught me on the balcony to tell me what he called “a long story,” but it turned out to be frightfully important.  He has treated more than 200 victims of chemical poisoning who worked or were affected by the dispersants and the spill.  Talking to other doctors, they are finding that the symptoms and response are the same as soldiers who came back from the Gulf War with similar chemical exposure.  The tracking of problems and reactions is disturbingly close.  I could say the good news is that Dr. Mike and his colleagues are coming up with a treatment regime that is helping, but the bad news behind the headlines is that few have recognized that this is a modern version of Agent Orange effects from what Dr. Mike referred to as “our war,” meaning Vietnam, as he was talking to me.

These were happy people celebrating their awards, plaques, and the critical “no strings” cash contributions that come from this Tides JBL, but asking the organizers how they saw the future was guaranteed to take the smiles off their faces as they looked at the horizon and saw nothing but more hard work, hard times, and long struggle.

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