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The Ute Indian Tribe and the United States Department of Justice Settle Trust Lawsuit

Today, officials from the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah (the Tribe) and the United States Department of Justice, are pleased to announce a historic settlement marking the end of a lawsuit by the Tribe against the United States involving claims about the United States’ accounting and mismanagement of the tribe’s trust funds and non-monetary trust assets, such as land, oil and gas, grazing, and timber. The Tribe brought its trust accounting and trust management lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) in December of 2005 and was represented by the law firm of Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP.   

The settlement between the Tribe and the United States is the result of months of negotiations by the parties, both working towards a goal of achieving a fair and just resolution of the Tribe’s claims. The negotiated agreement, which was signed and approved by the Tribe on March 6th 2012, resolves the litigation regarding Interior’s accounting and management of the Tribe’s trust assets. The United States will compensate the Tribe for losses attributed to unauthorized distribution of trust funds and lost interest income on its trust funds, and monetary losses related to the Tribe’s non-monetary trust assets, such as the Government’s failure to collect royalties on the Tribe’s mineral assets and the Government’s failure to charge fair market rates for the Tribe’s mineral assets.

As part of the settlement, the parties agree to improved measures to account for and manage the tribe’s trust assets.  These measures are heavily dependent on improved communications between Interior and the tribe and specify procedures for periodic performance statements for trust accounts and set-forth new dispute resolution processes which are intended to prevent and reduce future litigation over the tribe’s trust assets.  The settlement also underscores the need for strengthened management by Interior of tribal trust funds and trust resources and provides steps for improved management. 

The Obama Administration and Secretary Salazar have been committed to resolving pending tribal trust cases without protracted litigation, so that the United States and the Tribes can put issues of mismanagement and miscommunication in the past and embark on a new era of reconciliation and empowerment for American Indian nations.  “The Business Committee recognizes and very much appreciates the efforts of this administration to settle this case, which will benefit the nearly 3200 members of the Ute Indian Tribe” said Irene Cuch, Chairwoman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee.  “This settlement represents a strong commitment on the part of the United States to acknowledge and fulfill its trust responsibilities, and I believe time will show that the historical settlements of these Tribal trust fund cases will serve to strengthen and improve the government to government relationship between the United States and Native American Tribes, to foster an improved partnership built on mutual respect and better communication between the United States and the Tribe.” the Chairwoman said.   

About the Ute Indian Tribe-The Ute Indian Tribe resides on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. Three bands of Utes comprise the Ute Indian Tribe: the Whiteriver Band, the Uncompahgre Band and the Uintah Band. The Tribe has a membership of more than three thousand individuals, with over half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Tribe operates its own tribal government and oversees approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land which contains significant oil and gas deposits. The Tribal Business Committee is the governing council of the Tribe.

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