In 1990, a nation-spanning class of Native American tribes sued the United States for failing to fully fund contract costs associated with running Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) services for federally recognized tribes. These programs included included law enforcement, road maintenance, fire departments and education. Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced a $940 proposed payout that—if approved by the federal district court in Albuquerque—would settle the claim.
Under the Indian Self-Determination an Education Assistance Act of 1975, the federal government agreed to pay all contract-related costs of maintaining BIA services each year and relinquish control over those services to the tribes themselves. But over the years, Congress has not always appropriated enough money to cover those costs. The class action suit, Ramah Navajo Chapter, et al. v. Jewell, et al., was filed in 1990. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the government was liable for the funds, and since then the U.S. has been negotiating with the tribes to resolve the debt.
“Time and again, we have seen that when a tribal government runs a federal program, the program is more successful and more responsive to the tribal community,” said Assistant Secretary Washburn. “Today’s proposed settlement, together with President Obama’s request for full, mandatory funding of tribal contract support costs in the future, removes one of the significant obstacles to tribal self-determination and self-governance. Tribes can now be confident that the federal government will pay sufficient costs to allow them to be successful in running federal programs.”