The Cobell Indian Trust settlement refers to the case of Cobell vs. Salazar, a class action suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Treasury Department. Elouise Cobell is a Blackhawk Indian and bookkeeper-turned-banker who set up the first national bank on an Indian reservation. The suit alleges that the government mismanaged and committed fraud in its handling of land held in trust for various Indians and the revenue generated from leasing these lands on the Indians’ behalf.
In an effort to assimilate the Indians, the government began apportioning the reservations to individual heads-of-households in the 1880s, so the remaining areas could be open to settlement by whites. Many of the allotted parcels were unsuitable for farming and some were handed down to over 100 heirs in some cases. These parcels were put to use with resource leases to non-Indian concerns with the revenue deposited into Individual Indian Money accounts administered by the Department of the Interior.
Cobell noticed discrepancies in the IIMs of her tribe and initiated the class action suit, which revealed that the government had lost track of thousands of IIM owners and millions of acres ,and had not deposited revenues properly. After 15 years of litigation, the suit was settled for $3.4 billion, with $1.4 billion to go to individuals and the remainder to be used to purchase the allotted land from the individual Indians and return it to the tribes as part of reservations.