Judge gives o.k. to $3.4 billion Indian suit settlement

WASHINGTON Tue Jun 21, 2011 11:49am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A $3.4 billion settlement in a class-action lawsuit for American Indians has received final approval from a federal judge.

District Judge Thomas Hogan late on Monday announced approval of the settlement for Cobell v. Salazar, which found the Department of Interior mismanaged lands held in trust on behalf of Native Americans.

The suit was originally settled in December 2009 and then approved by Congress last November.

The judge's approval will allow hundreds of thousands of Native Americans who had Individual Indian Money accounts, an interest in trust, or restricted land managed by the Interior Department to receive payments of at least $1,000 each, said a statement released by Interior.

Parts of the settlement will go toward buying interest in trust lands and a scholarship fund.

"The Cobell settlement not only resolves the contentious 15-year litigation, but also honorably and responsibly turns the page on an unfortunate chapter in the Department's history," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in the statement.

In a statement from the White House, President Barack Obama said: "Resolving this dispute was a priority for my Administration, and we will engage in government-to-government consultations with tribal nations regarding the land consolidation component ... to ensure that this moves ahead at an appropriate pace and in an appropriate manner."

(Reporting by Wendell Marsh and Molly O'Toole; Editing by Jerry Norton)