US & Canada

US to pay Native Americans $1bn to settle land lawsuit

Image caption Attorney General Eric Holder said the settlement would resolve historical grievances

The US authorities have agreed to pay more than $1bn (£627m) to 41 Native American tribes, settling a long-running series of lawsuits.

The disputes focused on federal mismanagement of land and natural resources belonging to Native American tribes.

Negotiations between the tribes and US government had taken 22 months.

The claims dated back more than 100 years, when tribal land was given to white-owned companies.

The Department of the Interior manages nearly 56m acres (22.6m hectares) of tribal trust lands and more than 100,000 leases covering land uses such as housing, farming and oil extraction.

The claimants argued that the government did not compensate the tribes sufficiently for using their land.

"These settlements fairly and honorably resolve historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds... that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States," Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The settlements would help tribal governments improve infrastructure and healthcare after decades of inadequate funding, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe chairman Gary Hayes told the AP news agency.

In a statement, the US government described the settlement agreement as "a significant milestone in the improvement of the United States' relationship with Indian tribes".

Long-running dispute

The money will be paid from the US government's Judgment Fund, which handles settlements against the government.

The settlement agreement also includes dispute resolution provisions to reduce the likelihood of future lawsuits.

The long-running land disputes date back to the 1887 Dawes Act, which gave Indian land to white-owned companies.

Each Indian family was assigned a plot of land to use, and was to be "compensated" in perpetuity for the use of their land.

However, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans never received the money owed to them.

In 2009, the US government agreed to pay $3.4bn in a separate lawsuit led by late Blackfoot tribe member Elouise Cobell.

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