Native Americans Get a Little Justice in Trust Lawsuit, Maybe

Well, after a century or more of ripping off Native Americans’ trust accounts the U.S. government, that is the U.S. Justice Department, has finally agreed to a

a $3 billion settlement with Indian tribes. This marks the end of a 13-year lawsuit brought against the government by Indian tribes over billions of dollars in valuable land and oil royalties. The class action lawsuit Cobell v. Salazar alleged that the federal government mismanaged more than 300,000 American Indian trust accounts for more than a century. The American Indians claimed they were deprived of money they should have received for sale or usage of land for oil, gas, grazing and timber overseen by the Interior Department since 1887.

Under this agreement half a million account holders will receive some compensation, plus a modest Indian Education Scholarship Fund, possibly as much as $60 million, will be set up for Native American youth. All of this is conditioned of course on the court and the Congress agreeing.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff and executive director of the Native American Community Development Corp. (and a tireless campaigner for this justice) pointed out in this NPR report that numerous

plaintiffs have died since the suit began to wind its way through the courts in 1996. The original lawsuit was filed by Cobell and four other Indians on behalf of present and past beneficiaries of individual Indian trust accounts, including 300,000 then-current IIM account holders.

I have summarized some of this lawsuit’s history and historical contextin chapter six here:

In this lawsuit these Indian plaintiffs have sought a financial accounting and reform of the government’s trust account system, which had been mismanaged for a century. To this point in time, the U.S. government has fought their lawsuit. Soon after it filed, a federal judge ordered the departments of Interior and Treasury to produce records for the trust accounts for the named plaintiffs, which they did not do. These trust accounts stem from land allotments made to individual Indians in the nineteenth century. Profits from the land—such as leasing fees and royalties for oil, logging, and other land uses—should have been held in trust by the government, but poor or no records were kept. A federal judge referred to this as “fiscal and government irresponsibility.” In 2006 an Indian Trust Reform Act was introduced in Congress, but has yet to pass. If passed, this legislation would have provided $8 billion as a settlement (plaintiffs have requested $47 billion) to individual trust account holders and give some Indian groups control over trust assets on reservations.

The federal government gets off very easy in this settlement, and Native Americans once again get exploited.

More Invisible Americans: Bias in Media Reporting on Latinos

The Pew Hispanic Center’s useful Excellence-in-Journalism website reports a survey of the media’s skewed reporting on Latinos, and severe under-reporting of numerous matters of importance to Latinos and others, but falling outside the white-racial-frame’s concerns with Latinos.
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Creative Commons License photo credit: tortuga767

From early February to early August 2009 they examined 34,452 news accounts on 55 major U.S. news outlets– 13 newspapers, 15 cable programs, 7 broadcast networks’ news programs, 12 prominent news websites, 9 news radio/talk programs. Among thousands of news accounts were only 2.9 percent (645) dealing substantially with Latinos at all. Of these

only a tiny number, 57 stories, focused directly on the lives of Hispanics in the U.S.

The most covered event was the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 39 percent of all accounts dealing with Latinos:

The Mexican drug war came second at 15%; the outbreak of H1NI flu (with its origin in Mexico City) was third, at 13%. . . . Immigration, the number four topic, accounted for just 8.4% of the coverage involving Hispanics during these six months. . . . Immigration, which from 2006 through 2008 had been heavily debated in Congress and on the political campaign trail, was the subject of fewer than one in ten stories involving Latinos, a reflection of the degree to which the issue largely fell off the radar during the early months of the Obama Administration.

I guess the mostly white controllers of the mass media think Latinos are these days mostly about drugs, the flu source, and problematical immigration. The everyday stuff of Latinos’ lives gets little attention–even though there are now about 48 million Latinos in the United States:

In the small portion of coverage that dealt with the experiences of Hispanics living in the U.S., the most common storyline was the effect of the recession. Next was the immigrant experience, after that was population growth and changing demographics, and then the question of fair treatment and discrimination.

And this for a group growing in significance in 90 percent of U.S. counties and forecast to be 129 million (29 percent of Americans by mid-century). The researchers also found that other Americans of color (Asians, Africans/African-Americans) got even less serious media attention in this period. Whites’ power and privilege again?

(For some stories rarely covered in mainstream media see, just to take one example, the
United Farmworkers website, and listing of recent successes in improving farm workers lives. Also see their worker news blogging at dailykos here.)