PABLO – More than $75 million will be distributed across the Flathead Indian Reservation on Wednesday, when members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes receive part of a settlement with the U.S. government.
About 7,850 enrolled members will each receive checks for $10,000 apiece, or a tad more than half of the $150 million that the government paid to CSKT.
It’s part of a $1 billion settlement in a lawsuit initially filed by the Nez Perce Tribe being paid out to 44 tribes across the nation for mismanaged assets and natural resources held in trust by the government for the tribes.
Known as the “Salazar Settlement,” it is separate from the Cobell lawsuit that the federal government settled for $3.4 billion.
The Salazar Settlement was for mismanagement of assets and natural resources held by the tribes as a whole.
The Cobell lawsuit involved similar mismanagement involving trusts for individual tribal members by the federal government.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council is still discussing what to do with the balance of the $150 million – using it for care of the elderly, economic development or language and culture preservation are among the things under consideration. Some members are actively campaigning to have it all distributed to individuals.
It’s been 40 years since tribal members have been issued checks of such a significant amount.
Banks across the reservation are gearing up to handle the onslaught of checks, with the tribally owned Eagle Bank of Polson – from which the checks will be issued – expected to bear the brunt of the task.
“It’s been a little hectic,” Eagle Bank President Martin Olsson said Friday, and he expects the four-window bank will be challenged come Wednesday, and possibly beyond.
“I fully anticipate we will have more people than we will be able to accommodate on Wednesday,” he said. “We’ve encouraged people to wait until Thursday or Friday, when the lines might not be as long.”
The bank has extended its lobby hours to 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. each of those days, Olsson said, but can’t go beyond that and still get the books closed out. At 5:30 p.m., the doors will have to close no matter how many people are still in line, he said.
The checks will not be cashed at the bank’s two drive-up lanes.
“I have concerns on how it will unfold and impact traffic at the bank,” Olsson said. “I anticipate fairly good lines outside the bank.”
Eagle will limit the number of people allowed inside at any one time for safety and security reasons and will do its best to give assistance and priority to tribal elders.
Eagle will probably be the only place where tribal members without bank accounts will be able to cash the checks.
Olsson said a significant number of people opened checking and savings accounts in the weeks leading up to the issuance of the checks, but the bank will not be able to open new accounts or process loan applications during the expected deluge.
Olsson said there was no way to calculate how long it would take for each transaction to be handled. Regulations require obtaining certain information from check-cashers who are not bank customers, and there could be other required forms to be filled out depending on the size of cash-outs.
He’s also concerned about people carrying large amounts of cash.
“It they come in and want cash, we have to accommodate them,” Olsson said. “But, if they’re going to take $5,000 and buy a car, we’re going to encourage them to buy a bank draft, and not take that much cash with them.”
Other banks and credit unions were making special preparations as well for customers who are tribal members, with almost all banks and credit unions indicating that the checks would have to be brought into the main branches – i.e., no cashing them at convenience locations such as grocery stores, or at drive-through facilities.
The casino at the Kwa Taq Nuk Resort in Polson posted signs saying it would not cash the checks.
Lake County Bank in St. Ignatius ran an advertisement in the Sept. 5 Valley Journal advising people that it would only cash the $10,000 checks for tribal members who are already bank customers and would put a cap on the dollar amount of cash that the bank would turn over.
“You may contact the bank to find out this limit, and there may be a fee associated with cashing the check,” the bank said in the ad. “During this time no new accounts will be opened and lending activity may also be affected.“
A valid photo ID will be required to enter the bank’s lobby when it cashes the checks on Sept. 12, 13 and 14, the ad also said.