The US government has agreed to pay $554 million to the Navajo Nation to settle a lawsuit.
The payment, the largest ever settlement awarded to a Native American tribe, resolves disputes that date back to more than 50 years ago. The agreement is scheduled to be formalized in the capital of the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona.
The claimants accused American authorities of mismanaging the tribe's assets. The US government oversees 14 million acres of land allocated for the Navajo Nation. The arrangement, which has been in place since the 1800s, gives American officials the authority to lease land to members of the tribe for purposes such as mining, farming and coal and oil extraction.
In 2006, the Navajo Nation sued the US government for failing to maximize financial returns from the tribe's resources and trust accounts. The group, which sought $900 million in damages, said that officials have been mismanaging the tribe's resources since 1946.
"When the government negotiated the contracts, they didn't do a good job in getting a fair market value," Andrew Sandler, a lawyer from BuckleySandler, said. "The government didn't do a good job in monitoring the extraction to make sure the proper royalties were paid, and the government didn't do a good job in investing the money."
The money will be given to the tribe over the next two months. The settlement exceeds the record payment for a Native American tribe by over $170 million. To date, there have been more than 100 similar breach of trust cases filed against the US government. Two years ago, American officials agreed to pay 41 tribes an amount of $1 billion.
"This landmark resolution ends protracted and burdensome litigation... It will provide important resources to the Navajo Nation, and it fairly and honorably resolves a legal conflict," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the United States, with about 30,000 members. The tribe occupies 27,000 square miles across the states of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. While the agreement settles a long-standing dispute, it does not prevent the Navajo Nation from suing the government in the future.