The Northern Cheyenne Tribe will distribute part of a $50 million settlement from the federal government to enrolled members Friday and Saturday.

The tribe was one of 44 in the United States that filed suit against the U.S. government over mismanagement of money and trust lands. The suit, which was separate from the $3.4 billion class-action Cobell settlement, was settled in March for $1 billion.

6th-largest payout

Where the suit filed by Eloise Cobell focused on individual trust funds, the suit by the 44 tribes had to do with tribal trust funds. Among the 44 tribes, the amount received by the Northern Cheyenne was the sixth-largest.

Other Montana tribes included in the settlement are the Salish and Kootenai, $150 million; the Assiniboine and Sioux, $75 million; the Blackfeet, $19 million; and the Chippewa Cree, $8 million.

A total of 10,522 Northern Cheyenne tribal members are eligible to collect a one-time check of $2,000 that will be distributed in Lame Deer over two days. That totals slightly more than $21 million.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council approved a resolution for dispersal of the money, and President Leroy Spang signed it. The resolution did not state what the tribe will do with the remaining $29 million. Calls to Spang this week were not returned.

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Answering questions

There has been some confusion over the disbursement of the money, said tribal council member Jace Killsback. He advocated holding a series of meetings with the members to address questions about the settlement.

The council approved a resolution calling for the meetings, Killsback said, but Spang vetoed it, and no meetings were scheduled.

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Killsback went on to hold one meeting in his district, in Busby.

Killsback said some tribal members have advocated that all the money be distributed to members, while others say some of it should be used to benefit the tribe as a whole.

“We’re a very impoverished community and there’s no real planning that was done with the money,” Killsback said.

It is unclear if tribal members will have to pay taxes on the money they receive. Per capita payments that come to members out of trust funds are not taxed, but the settlement was not put into a trust account.