Broken trust

The Interior Department has held more than 54 million acres of American Indian-owned lands in trust since 1887, leasing the properties and managing revenues earned from them through farming, oil drilling and other activities. Longtime government mismanagement has left American Indians with no way of knowing how much money is in their accounts.

A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of American Indians led to a December 1999 federal court decision finding the government in violation of its trust responsibilities and instituting a five-year period of special court oversight of trust-reform efforts. The plaintiffs filed a motion this month for a second trial to begin in January to determine exactly how much money is owed, a disputed amount that they estimate could be up to $10 billion.

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