Secretary Jewell makes historic visit to Choctaw and Chickasaw Tribes

In keeping with the spirit of a ground-breaking settlement, Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell will visit the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in Durant, Oklahoma, today to participate in a ceremonial signing of the historic agreement that allowed the Nations and the federal government to avoid a trial which had been scheduled to begin July 14, 2015.

“As a proud member of the Choctaw Nation, I’m honored to join Chief Batton and Governor Anoatubby in welcoming Secretary Jewell to Oklahoma,” said Judge Michael Burrage, General Counsel for the Choctaw Nation and co-lead trial counsel.  “As the first Native American appointed to the federal bench, I have had a chance to witness firsthand the evolution of this country’s conduct toward our citizens.  Secretary Jewell’s leadership in settling this case is yet another favorable signpost that our sovereignty is recognized and respected under President Obama’s administration.”

This signing settles a nine-year lawsuit involving 1.3 million acres of valuable timberlands, in which the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations pursued an accounting of the sale or disposition of these lands by the Department of the Interior.  The two sides were set to try the first phase of this decade long accounting dispute in July.  Less than two weeks before trial was to begin, the Nations agreed to accept a cash payment of $186 million, as well as other remedial relief, in lieu of a trial, possible accounting, and continued litigation to recover damages depending upon the result of the accounting.   The settlement will be divided pursuant to an agreement between the Choctaw Nation and the Chickasaw Nation, reflecting their joint ownership of tribal lands under an 1855 agreement and subsequent agreements.

“President Obama and Secretary Jewell have repeatedly said they want the remaining Native American tribal trust cases settled, and settled with dignity,” said co-lead trial counsel, Brad Beckworth, of Nix, Patterson and Roach.  “The signing of this agreement ensures they will be forever remembered for their commitment to change the way our country respects sovereignty and recognizes the historically repulsive and immoral injustices suffered by Native Americans long into the 20th century.”

The two Nations were represented by a trial team led by Whitten Burrage Law Firm in Oklahoma and Nix, Patterson, & Roach in Texas.  U.S. District Court Judge Lee R. West filed an order on September 25 approving the agreement.  The order specifically states that the government did not admit liability or wrongdoing.