Judge James Robertson of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia has ruled that the Interior Department "unreasonably delayed" its accounting for billions of dollars that should have gone to Native American landholders and that it was now impossible to remedy the problems.
The ruling came as the result of a 10-day bench trial. The trial in October 2007, was meant to determine if the Interior Department had remedied what an earlier judge had found to be a breach of the Interior Department's duty under the Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act of 1994 to produce an accounting of Individual Indian Account money holders.
The case has been in the courthouse for over 11 years and dates back to issues that go back even longer. Judge Robertson wrote, "a remedy must be found for the Department's unrepaired, and irreparable, breach of its fiduciary duty over the last century. And it does mean that the time has come to bring this suit to a close."
"This is a great day in Indian country," said Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. "We've argued for over 10 years that the government is unable to fulfill its duty to render an adequate historical accounting, much less redress the historical wrongs heaped upon the individual Indian trust beneficiaries."
The plaintiffs are looking forward to Judge Robertson scheduling a hearing to determine an appropriate remedy in light of the failure to render the court-ordered accounting.
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