Breaking News from Indian country: Senators demand IIM settlement, warn of Congressional action

WASHINGTON - The co-chairmen of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee have sent a letter to all litigant parties in the Cobell class action lawsuit on trust funds, urging them to settle their differences promptly in the case and warning of a mediation process mandated by Congress if they fail.

The letter, sent the week of April 7 to plaintiff attorneys John Echohawk, Keith Harper and Dennis Gingold, and to Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton as named defendant and her lead attorney, is signed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., the committee co-chair, along with ranking minority member Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii.

The senators tersely reviewed the public struggle to reform trust funds accounting over the past 20 years. They take ominous note of its growing toll on the national treasury, echoing the tempest of discontent raised by other lawmakers on this issue within the past month. Tribal leaders too have complained that the trust fix is having the effect of a diversion of funds from other Native programs.

The senatorial letter also cites a disaster in staff morale at Interior and the BIA, ultimately impairing the delivery of services to Indians.