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Government: American Indians owed $60 million

by the Associated Press 8-07

Some $60 million is owed to American Indians who have not claimed inheritances or interest from tribal land allotments, the federal government said.

The federal Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians is looking for more than 45,000 beneficiaries nationwide. A trust officer for the agency, John Roach, said that includes 4,000 Navajos. The beneficiaries are eligible for disbursements ranging from a couple of pennies to more than $100,000, but the government doesn’t know where the beneficiaries are.

“It’s unconscionable for us to have $50,000, $60,000 or $100,000 and not do everything in our power to find them,” Roach said. “We have a very important but strict financial duty to them.”

Roach said more than half the beneficiaries are owed $100 or more.

Julie Redhouse, an accounting technician for the OST, said American Indians are missing out on payments for a number of reasons.

People who are in line to inherit money or estates from deceased family members either don’t know of the inheritance or have moved and failed to update their mailing address, she said.

All earnings and inheritances are reviewed and paid out by the OST, which also sends quarterly statements to land owners, listing all money, assets and real estate.

The office also owes money to descendants of the original trustees of tribal land attained through the General Allotment Act of 1887, Redhouse said.

In the absence of a will, the act provided that upon death of the allottee, the ownership title would be divided among the heirs.

“When heirs don’t keep their records or mailing addresses updated, they miss out on quarterly pay-outs,” Roach said.

Heirs who share ownership with dozens or even hundreds of other beneficiaries might receive only a few cents every quarter, but those who have inherited a fraction of land leased for grazing or for the development of natural resources might be eligible for larger dividends.

The agency also holds on to accrued interest or inheritance until a beneficiary turns 18.

“Sometimes we lose track of them if they inherited land when they were juveniles,” Roach said. “The sad thing is, when the land produces money, we can’t find them.”

The OST is asking that all American Indians check with the agency to find out whether they are owed money or have assets.

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On the Net:

Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, www.ost.doi.gov


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