December 22, 1999

For Further Information Contact: NARF, (202)785-4166; John Echohawk (303)447-8760



WASHINGTON, DC / BOULDER, CO – In an historic and long-awaited decision, Federal District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth ruled on December 21, 1999, that the federal government has breached its fiduciary duties to 500,000 individual Indian fund beneficiaries, and cannot be trusted to carry out trust management reform without continued oversight by the Court. Calling decades of Indian trust fund mismanagement by the United States fiscal and governmental irresponsibility in its purest form, Judge Lamberth vowed to retain jurisdiction over the case for at least five years to ensure that the governments promises to reform are kept. The judge characterized the outcome of the first phase of this case as a stunning victory for the Indian plaintiffs.

The decision came in the first phase of a class-action lawsuit filed over three years ago by the Native American Rights Fund and private attorneys to hold the federal government accountable for the on-going mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust fund accounts. By law, the accounts are held in trust by the government and are comprised primarily of money that is earned by Indians through leases of their land for oil, gas, timber, ranching and farming.

We are very happy with the decision, says John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund. It sets the groundwork for finally achieving justice for those individuals who have suffered the worst kind of mismanagement at the hands of the federal government.

Earlier this year, the same judge held Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in contempt for violating his orders, and appointed a Special Master to monitor discovery in the case. Judge Lamberth stressed that he will not hesitate to appoint a second Special Master or to exercise his contempt powers again should the government fail to live up to their own representations regarding reform efforts or fail to abide by the Courts orders.

The second phase of the case, which will involve an accounting by the government, has not yet been scheduled for trial.