The Osage Nation has won another important decision from the United States Court of Federal Claims in its quest for justice for the federal government’s mismanagement of the Osage mineral estate. On Friday, April 30, Chief Judge Emily Hewitt, who was designated by President Obama as Chief Judge of the Court on May 11, 2009, granted the Osage Nation’s motion for summary judgment on a significant portion of claimed damages caused by the BIA’s Osage Agency. In this phase of the case, the Osage Nation sought approximately $310 million for claims arising during 1972 - 2000 for the Osage Agency’s failure to collect all oil royalties owed the Tribe and to properly invest the funds that it did collect on production from Osage oil leases. In this most recent ruling, the Court granted the Osage Nation’s motion on claims and issues for which the Osage Nation sought approximately $250 million as damages for the federal government’s breaches of trust duties. The Court also ruled that two additional issues, which the Osage Nation has estimated are worth approximately $60 million, should be ruled upon after a trial, which the Nation hopes will occur expeditiously.
Chief Judge Hewitt also expressed “dismay” at the government’s “repetition of strategies that appear calculated to result in delays,” and made clear her expectation that the government will work in a “cooperative manner” toward resolution of the case. John Echohawk, Executive Director of the Native American Rights Fund, which represents many tribes in similar cases, said that this ruling is "significant step forward for not just the Osage Nation but for all tribes seeking resolution of their trust funds claims against the United States." National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel echoed this sentiment, stating that this ruling "may very well result in the largest judgment by a tribe against the United States in history."
This decision does not involve other unresolved claims, which are also pending before Chief Judge Hewitt, brought by the Osage Nation for federal mismanagement of Osage trust assets occurring before 1972.
Under the federal 1906 Osage Act and amendments thereto, judgments from Osage Nation claims against the United States for mismanagement of the Osage mineral estate are paid into an Osage tribal trust account before distribution to Osage headright holders.