A federal judge on Monday approved a $3.4 billion settlement over mismanaged Indian royalties in a case that represents the largest class-action settlement ever approved against the U.S. government.
Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont., claimed in the 15-year-old suit that for more than a century, U.S. officials systematically stole or squandered billions in royalties intended for American Indians in exchange for oil, gas, grazing and other leases.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, in approving the settlement after a daylong hearing, said the legitimacy of Cobell's claims could not be questioned.
"The government mismanaged these resources on a staggering scale," Hogan said.
The settlement does not make up for the losses Indian tribes suffered for more than a century, Hogan added, but "at least it provides some certainty" to hundreds of thousands of individual Indians who will now receive payments of least $1,000 each from the government. Many will receive substantially more money.