Cherokee Nation Settles Suit, Nets $4.3 Million

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March 8, 2001

Cherokee Nation Settles Suit, Nets $4.3 Million

TAHLEQUAH -- The Cherokee Nation has received $4.3 million as part of a judgment in a lawsuit against the federal government. The Cherokee Nation was one of many tribes that won a case against the Department of the Interior for past underpayment of contract support costs, which federal law requires the government to pay to tribes contracting federal programs.

"We got a pretty good share of the settlement," said Barbara Starr-Scott, a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council. Starr-Scott, chair of the council’s health committee and co-chair of the executive and finance committee, says that she plans to discuss proposals on how to spend the money with the Council in committee.

"We just want to work together with the Administration to figure out the best way to spend it," said Starr-Scott.

Under the federal government’s self-governance policy, tribes run programs for their own people rather than have the Bureau of Indian Affairs do it for them. In the lawsuit against the Department of Interior, the Cherokee Nation recovered money it was owed for indirect costs associated with running those programs.

"The BIA is obligated by law to pay the Cherokee Nation this money," said Chad Smith, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. "I am proud of our financial and self-governance staff for their diligent efforts to recover this money."

The $4.3 million payment does not settle all claims by the Cherokee Nation against the Department of the Interior.

"The payment settles some of the claims from 1989 through 1993, but not all of them," said Melanie Knight, the self-governance administrator for the Cherokee Nation. "There are still outstanding issues for those years as well as from 1993 to the present."

The Cherokee Nation has filed similar suits to recover money from the Indian Health Service. Those claims are still pending.

For now, the $4.3 million sits in an interest bearing account while the Tribal Council and the Administration discuss proposals for its use. Smith and Starr-Scott say that one proposal would use the funds for health care and health facilities construction. The Cherokee Nation operates health care clinics in Muskogee, Salina, Sallisaw, Stilwell, Jay and Nowata.