In a meeting with government officials, tribal leaders and a trio of mediators, Sen. John McCain said that he would continue to push forward with a bill that would settle an American Indian lawsuit filed against the federal government over the mismanagement of their lands.
McCain, an Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said that he will continue to work on the bill, but warned tribal leaders and government officials that neither side is likely to be happy with the outcome.
The class-action suit was originally filed in 1996 on behalf of as many as 500,000 Indians and accuses the Interior Department of mishandling the funds it collected for over a century from oil, gas, timber and other companies leasing Indian land. The suit says that the mismanagement amounts to $137 billion, while the government has offered up to $27.5 billion to settle.
The dispute is not whether there was such mismanagement, but over how best to determine the value of any settlement.
The lawsuit's $27.5 billion estimate is based on the presumption that the American Indians are still owed about a fifth of the $100 billion to $170 billion in royalties they should have received, most in accrued interest. The government's lower figure is based on efforts to account for errors in collections, deposits and payments.
In November, a court struck down an order for a full-blown auditing of 100 years' worth of the trust fund's activity, which the Interior Department said would have carried a price tag of as much as $12 billion.
McCain, along with House Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., have proposed bills to deliver a lump-sum settlement and overhaul the way Indian land trusts are administered by the government.
The judge overseeing the case has twice ordered the Interior Department to disconnect its computers from the Internet for failing to provide adequate security for the Indians' trust records. He has held Interior Secretary Gale Norton, as well as her predecessor under President Clinton, in contempt.
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