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‘New Chapter in Trust’: Historic $186 Million Settlement Reaffirms Sovereignty, Tribes Say

The U.S. Department of the Interior, the Choctaw Nation and the Chickasaw Nation said a $186 million settlement over land trust reignites trust.
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Tribes and the U.S. Department of the Interior heralded the outcome of a $186 million settlement signed earlier this month between the federal government, the Choctaw and the Chickasaw nations to solve a longstanding land trust dispute as a new chapter in relations. 

“This settlement represents a significant milestone in helping solidify and improve our relationship with the United States,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby in a statement during the October 5 signing ceremony that also gave a nod to the impetus provided by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We respect the vital role Secretary Jewell has taken in helping make this historic settlement a reality. We are confident she will play an essential role in our efforts to continue strengthening the relationship between our governments, because we believe she has a unique appreciation for the mutual benefits of a positive government-to-government relationship.”

Jewell indicated as much by greeting the crowd, many of them wearing traditional attire, with the Choctaw “Halito!” which "spoke to her empathy and support of American Indian issues and people," the Choctaw Nation said in a release describing the signing ceremony.

Anoatubby and Choctaw Chief Gary Batton were both on hand on Tuesday October 6 to sign a historic $186 million settlement between the two tribes and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The agreement resolved a lawsuit that took issue with the way the federal government had managed the tribes’ trust resources, according to a statement from the Chickasaw Nation. The Chickasaw Nation will receive $46.5 million of the $186 million settlement, with the balance going to the Choctaw. In their case the tribes alleged that the U.S. mismanaged 1.3 million acres of timberlands belonging to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. The agreement ends all litigation and was inked at the Choctaw Event Center in a ceremony that capped a two-day visit Jewell to both nations on October 5 and 6.

Photo: Courtesy Chickasaw Nation

Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, U.S. Dept. of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton sign a historic settlement agreement Tuesday, Oct. 6 in the Choctaw Nation. After nearly a decade of litigation, the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations reached a $186 million settlement with the federal government in a lawsuit involving the government’s management of the two tribes’ trust assets.

RELATED: Choctaw and Chickasaw Receive $186 Million in Historic Land-Trust-Management Settlement

“Today’s agreement is the latest addition to a record number of longstanding settlements resolved under this Administration,” Jewell said in a DOI statement after the signing. “This historic settlement is the start of a new chapter in our trust relationships with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, and underscores our commitment to fulfilling those responsibilities to Native communities across the country.”

Batton, too, spoke about the improvement in relations stemming from visits by Jewell and President Barack Obama.

“This visit marks the start of a revitalized relationship with the United States,” said Batton in the tribes’ statement. “Secretary Jewell’s presence here, coming soon after President Obama’s recent visit, also serves to reaffirm that the foundation of this relationship is government-to-government.”

Batton emphasized the nature of the relationship as well.

“I am appreciative of having a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship between the Choctaw Nation and the U.S. Government,” he said. “It is also historic that these three sovereigns have agreed to a settlement of the timber trust account case.”

The case was first filed in 2005 but reached back more than 100 years to just before Oklahoma became a state. That’s when the U.S. government took control of more than a million acres of Chickasaw and Choctaw tribal lands, the Choctaw Nation explained in its media release describing the events of the day.

“The U.S., as federal trustee, held those lands in trust for the benefit of the Nations,” said the Choctaw in its statement. “In December 2005 the Nations filed suit in U.S. District Court seeking a long overdue accounting of the federal trustee’s management of those resources and an equitable restoration of the value of that trust.”

The $186 million will be divided between the two tribes based on treaty agreements, with the Choctaw receiving 75 percent, or $139.5 million, and the Chickasaw the other 25 percent, or $46.5 million.

Both Batton and Anoatubby said the proceeds would be invested in education and other endeavors.

“We plan for the proceeds to be invested in our people—expanding education, creating jobs and promoting economic development and culture, as well as a portion to be invested in a sustainability fund for the future of our Citizens,” Batton said.

Anoatubby had announced the settlement to members in his State of the Nation Address on October 3.

“Our portion of the funds will be carefully invested and the returns used for activities that improve the overall quality of life of all Chickasaws,” said Anoatubby in the address.

He, too, added that the settlement was about more than money.

“Perhaps more important than the actual dollars, this settlement turns the page,” said Anoatubby. “It represents the United States’ acknowledgement of its mistreatment of the Chickasaw Nation and American Indians of Indian Territory during those early decades of the twentieth century. We continue to actively protect and defend our sovereignty, but we will continue to strive to improve our working relationship with the government and it agencies and agents.”