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How the media often is lying with the truth

by Billy House Saturday, Jul. 29, 2006 at 6:59 AM

This is an interesting story because the media seems to be distorting the facts with the truth. The headline seems to imply that Senator McCain is some sort of hero for trying to solve a tribal dispute. The truth is the tribe claims to have been screwed by the government out of royalties of 0 billion and the only thing Senator McCain is doing is asking them to settle out of court for less then 10 percent of the damages. Hell any 0 an hour lawyer could do that.

This is an interesting story because the media seems to be distorting the facts with the truth. The headline seems to imply that Senator McCain is some sort of hero for trying to solve a tribal dispute. The truth is the tribe claims to have been screwed by the government out of royalties of 0 billion and the only thing Senator McCain is doing is asking them to settle out of court for less then 10 percent of the damages. Hell any 0 an hour lawyer could do that.

McCain races to solve tribal funds dispute

Billy House

Republic Washington Bureau

Jul. 28, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - The next few days may be Sen. John McCain's last best opportunity to resolve 10-year-old litigation against the federal government over billions of dollars in mineral royalties and land leases long denied to Native American landowners.

With time running out on the congressional session as well as on McCain's chairmanship of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the Arizona Republican has set a hearing for Wednesday to finalize details of his bill to settle the class-action dispute.

The effort to bring together the opposing sides is a test of McCain's political pull and power of persuasion as he eyes a possible run for the presidency in 2008.

He needs to forge a settlement that satisfies Native Americans while it overcomes objections from congressional opponents who worry about the costs to taxpayers, including funds for retracing and verifying individual accounts and money owed. That is a goal that no one to date has managed to accomplish.

The case could linger for years longer in the court system if McCain's bill cannot solve the matter.

"I'm taking him for his word that he would work as hard as he could to get justice for Indian people," Eloise Cobell, a Blackfoot rancher and banker from Montana who filed the class-action lawsuit in 1996, said Thursday.

The lawsuit, Cobell vs. Kempthorne, seeks to force the government to account for billions of dollars held in trust for as many as 500,000 American Indians and their heirs. It alleges that royalty payments the federal government was supposed to distribute to thousands of individual Native Americans have been mismanaged for more than a century.

0 billion in dispute

Cobell's lawyers have asserted that the Department of the Interior owes the landowners at least 0 billion, much of it tied to royalties for farming, grazing, mining, logging and other activities on tribal lands.

In Arizona, thousands of Native Americans and their heirs could be owed money.

Last summer, McCain and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., top Democrat on the Indian Affairs Committee, filed a bill to resolve the long-standing lawsuit. It called for creation of a settlement fund and an overhaul of how the Interior Department manages land and money for tribes and individual landowners.

But before unveiling that legislation, McCain warned at a March 9, 2005, hearing that although he promised as Indian Affairs Committee chairman to make reforming the trust fund a priority, he would give the effort "only one good shot."

"If it looks like we're not getting anywhere, if the tribes, the government or other interested parties cannot come to terms on a settlement of the lawsuit and what trust reform should be, then I will leave that task to a future Congress and the courts," McCain said.

If Republicans retain control of the Senate, McCain is widely expected to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee next year when Sen. John Warner, R-Va., steps down after his six-year term ends. If that happens, McCain would not continue as Indian Affairs chairman.

'One good shot'

Cobell said she believes the upcoming week is McCain's self-described "one good shot."

McCain's communications director, Eileen McMenamin, had no comment Thursday on the senator's efforts.

But one of Cobell's lawyers, Keith Harper, said the dollar amount McCain proposes for the settlement fund and other specifics of the bill will be key to whether Congress will have a real chance to settle the issue this year.

Given Congress' scheduled recess, Aug. 7-Sept. 4, and midterm elections, any further delays likely would mean an end to the bill, Harper said.

Last year, plaintiffs in the long-running lawsuit offered to settle the case for billion despite their claims that the amounts owed by the Interior Department to Indian landowners exceeded 0 billion.

But Cobell and her lawyers say they have learned McCain's bill would put the settlement amount to be paid by the government even lower, at billion .

"We haven't commented on that," McMenamin said.

Dorgan's office did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

"It's much less than what we wanted," Cobell said. "I don't think it's fair."

But as lead plaintiff in the case, Cobell said she must consider that rejecting that amount would result in the bill's likely death and continuing court battles.

She said many of the would-be beneficiaries are elderly and are going to die before a settlement.

Cobell said the Indian plaintiffs would prefer to settle and move on. But she said she also doesn't want to just discard hard-fought District Court victories that have validated claims that the government's handling of the accounts was a breach of trust.

"We've got to hope that McCain will take up our cause in a rightful way," Cobell said, adding that what also is at stake is how the trust accounts will be managed in the future.

Catherine Aragon, a lawyer for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, was among those in Washington, D.C., on Monday expecting to review new details of McCain's bill. She and others were surprised to learn that the bill still was being worked on.

"It's important to us, not just the settlement of claims but the overall trust, responsibility issue," Aragon said.

She would not comment on how many Salt River tribal members might be owed money under the lawsuit or whether the anticipated billion settlement figure would be acceptable to the tribe's leaders.

But that amount is not pleasing everyone.

"The amount offered, as we understand, is lower than expected. Is that equitable?" asked Sharon Clahchischilliage, executive director of the Navajo Nation's Washington office.

Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said that officials there would not discuss specifics but that they have been working on a settlement with McCain, Dorgan, and others.

"And we continue our work toward that goal," Wolfe said.

Reach the reporter at 1-(202)-906-8136.

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