- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations have asked a judge to order federal agencies to provide greater transparency in how they have managed tribal trust assets.

The tribes filed a lawsuit nearly 10 years ago, claiming the U.S. government violated their trust relationship and mismanaged more than 1 million acres of tribal timber lands and other southeastern Oklahoma assets, The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1LfUi5p ) reported.

The government, serving as a trustee for the tribes, had sold large portions of the groups’ land to logging companies and other non-tribal entities during the first half of the 1900s.

The tribes now want a full accounting in how the government managed their trust assets and want to be compensated for property that was “wasted, lost or unaccounted for.” They claim in the lawsuit that the, “United States has never accounted to the Nations for its management of any of these lands, assets or funds.”

The tribes had argued that federal officials acted unlawfully when they sold the tribal timber lands from 1908 to 1940. But a federal judge already has determined it wasn’t illegal for the government to sell the properties. Whether the government properly protected tribal interests in selling the land remains an issue.

If current mediation efforts fail, a non-jury trial in an Oklahoma City federal court is scheduled to begin mid-July.

Government attorneys dispute many of the tribes’ accusations.

Federal officials “deny that the Department of the Treasury has any obligation to provide an accounting” to the tribes, government attorneys said in court filings. They said that over the years, the Department of the Interior periodically “has furnished and continues to furnish” tribes with accounting data and documentation related to trust funds.

Attorneys for the U.S. government contend that sovereign immunity protects the government from being sued unless it specifically consents to it.

Congress twice waived sovereign immunity and created five-year windows of opportunity for tribes to file trust claims, once in 1924 and again in 1946. The attorneys argue that the tribes aren’t allowed to file claims related to mismanagement that occurred before 1946.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com


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