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Federal Government To Pay Long-Overdue $940 Million To Native American Tribes

In the latest of a series of major settlements with Native American tribes, the Obama administration has agreed to pay $940 million for failing to compensate tribes for services that they carried out.

The 25-year-old case involves claims that the government paid tribes less than it had promised under contracts for public services such as education and law enforcement.

Laurel Morales of member station KJZZ reports for NPR's newscast desk:

"This dispute goes back decades. Under the 1975 Indian Self Determination Act, tribes have local control over services like road maintenance, fire and police — but the federal government pays for them. It's all spelled out in contracts. But Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn says sometimes the appropriations weren't enough.

"'Some kinks have taken a while to work out. For several years Congress did not appropriate enough money for all the contract costs that we were required by statute to pay,' he said. 'That sometimes created a gap between what we promised to pay and what we actually paid.'"

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the tribes in 2012, but the settlement terms must still be approved in U.S. District Court.

There have been several other massive class-action lawsuits settled between Native American tribes and the federal government in recent years. In 2010, the government paid $3.4 billion over royalties owed to generations of individual Indian landowners, according to The Associated Press. And last year, the Obama administration settled with Navajo Nation leaders to the tune of $554 million over the mismanagement of resources on its 27,000-square-mile reservation.

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