US Senate approves Pigford and Cobell suit settlements

Elouise Cobell, shown last year with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Elouise Cobell, shown with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said plaintiffs are owed $100bn

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The US Senate has approved a $4.6bn (£2.9bn) payment to Native Americans and black farmers who complained of government discrimination.

The legal settlement would benefit black farmers who sued for alleged bias by US agriculture officials.

It would also settle a 15 year-old suit by Native Americans who said the government cheated them out of of oil, gas and grazing royalties.

The legislation now needs approval by the House of Representatives.

"While these legislative achievements reflect important progress, they also serve to remind us that much work remains to be done," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

'We're owed $100bn'

Many of the claims date back to the 19th century. At least 300,000 Native Americans claimed that since 1887, the US interior department swindled them out of royalties.

The suit, called the Cobell lawsuit for lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell, dragged on for 15 years and encompassed 3,600 court filings and 80 judicial rulings, the Associated Press reported.

"Personally I still think we're owed $100bn, but how long do you drag this thing out?" said Ms Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Browning in the state of Montana. "Do you drag it out until every beneficiary is dead? You just can't do that."

The US government settled the suit last year, agreeing to pay $3.4bn; the Senate bill would fund the settlement.

The black farmers would receive $1.2bn to settle the so-called Pigford suit in which they said local US agriculture department officials discriminated against blacks in awarding loans and other aid.

"Twenty-six years' justice is in sight for our nation's black farmers," said John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association.

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