|Between 1820 and 1934, it was national
policy to break up reservations and parcel out allotments
of 80-160 acres to individual Indian owners. Many of
these lands were rich in timber, minerals, water and
fertile soil. Today, 11 million acres of land are held in
trust for over 387,000 beneficiaries via the Individual
Indian Monies (IIM) system. More than $300 million
annually from agricultural and oil leases, mining and
water rights, rights-of-way and timber sales is collected
by the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs
(BIA) for distribution to owners.
Locating them has become more difficult as the Native American population has become more mobile. BIA has lost track of at least 47,000 account holders. On e reason - more than 123,000 accounts lack Social Security numbers.
Even many of those who are not listed among the missing don't receive regular statements, and therefore have been unable to verify whether their holdings and payments are correct. The current trust balance is around $450 million, but several billion dollars more have been lost over the years due to undervalued and/or uncollected lease payments, missing records (the majority of BIA's leases are stored in places with "no retrieval capacity," like abandoned salt mines) and destroyed checks.
In addition to IIM are some 2000 Tribal Trust Accounts, which includes per capita annual payments, compensation for rights-of-way and court settlements, which total $2.3 billion. As with IIM, however, waste, fraud and abuse are rampant. An audit revealed at least $2.4 billion is missing or otherwise unaccounted for over just the 20-year period from 1973 to 1992, making an accurate reconciliation of accounts virtually impossible.
Special Note: A recently settled class action lawsuit (Cobell) initiated by the Native American Rights Fund over Indian Trust Fund mismanagement found the federal government breached its fiduciary duty to over 300,000 Native American IIM beneficiaries. Members are entitled to share in damages totaling $3.4 billion dollars.
For additional information and claims assistance go to: Indian Trust Fund Search
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