Two hundred and thirty-one (231) years to the day after the Cherokee Nation entered into the Treaty of Hopewell with the United States government, the Tribe filed suit against the federal government over trust relations. The Cherokee Nation filed a 50-page lawsuit (Cherokee Nation lawsuit) against various departments and officials of the U.S. federal government on Monday, Nov. 28 alleging mismanagement of the tribe’s Trust Fund. In the suit, the Cherokee Nation seeks “to resolve accounting and related equitable claims” against the United States dealing with the Cherokee Nation’s Trust Fund.
A total of 13 departments and individuals are named as defendants in the case including the Department of the Interior; Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Bureau of Land Management; Office of Trust Fund Management; and others.
“There is a strong desire for resolution of these breach of trust issues,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said in a statement on Monday. “This is long overdue, and the Cherokee people are owed their rightful assets and resources. It is my duty as Principal Chief to make sure the United States upholds their promises to our people.”
The lawsuit names some of the resources managed by the federal government including, “…money; proceeds from the sale of land or profits from the land; money from surface leases for agriculture, surface, oil and gas mining leases; coal leases, sand and gravel leases, businesses, and town lots; income from property owned by the Nation; buildings; the Nation’s records; and money resulting from treaties or other agreement.”
One of the remedies the Cherokee Nation is seeking in the lawsuit is an overall accounting of the Trust Fund. “The fact that an accounting has not been provided by the United States for the management of the Trust Fund constitutes an illegal deprivation of the Nation’s interests and has impermissibly impacted the Nation’s ability to govern itself and its people, or to provide greatly needed services and economic development in the Nation’s community,” the suit alleges.
The Tribe is not seeking a specific monetary amount of damages in the case, but does request in the suit that the federal government “make whole, restore, replenish, reconstitute, or repair the Trust Funds wasted, lost, or unaccounted for by the Government.” They are also seeking the costs of suit and attorney’s fees.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree said in a statement on Monday, “This legal action is necessary because the United States government managed and controlled the Cherokee Nation’s property but never, in hundreds of years, provided a full accounting as the law requires.”
It is policy of the federal government to not comment on pending litigation.