Close to 6,000 American Indians in Idaho will get a check this week for $1,000. It’s part of a landmark settlement with the federal government over the mismanagement of American Indian land.
Just in time for the holidays, about 300,000 American Indians nationally will receive checks from the $3.4 billion settlement. The settlement is the result of a lawsuit started by Montana Blackfeet woman Elouise Cobell in 1996. Cobell died of cancer during the appeals process in 2011.
An advocacy group is concerned that some people receiving the checks may be targeted by financial predators.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is going on the offensive to educate people on scams that could be coming their way.
Sherry Salway Black heads the Protect Native Money project with the NCAI. She says with so much money in play, financial education is important. Black warning tribal leaders about potential scams and financial predators who could come knocking on their members’ doors in the next few weeks.
For those people who don’t have bank accounts, Black suggests opening one to avoid being charged high fees for cashing or depositing checks. She says some natives will use the money to pay bills like heat and rent, but she hopes others can put the money in a college fund.
“There’s some urgency to get consumer protection information out to Native people," Black says. "But in the long-term, we really want to encourage increasing our financial capability. To build skills to manage money more effectively, to invest, to really participate more actively in the economy.”
Black herself is a member of the class action lawsuit. She is happy the money is finally being disbursed, but she has mixed feelings about the $3.4 settlement. Plaintiffs originally had hoped for more money, near $40 billion.
“It’s symbolic of the relationship between American Indian tribes and the federal government," says Black. "I knew Elouise Cobell and unfortunately she has passed away before seeing all of her hard work come to fruition.”
A second part of the settlement will be disbursed this summer.
Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio