DURANT — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made a stop in Durant Tuesday to announce a major trust settlement involving the Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation. Joining Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Jewell said the multimillion-dollar settlement will put an end to a long struggle between the nations and the federal government and encourage a partnership founded in a relationship of trust.

DURANT — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made a stop in Durant Tuesday to announce a major trust settlement involving the Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation. Joining Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby and Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton, Jewell said the multimillion-dollar settlement will put an end to a long struggle between the nations and the federal government and encourage a partnership founded in a relationship of trust.


"It’s been a lot of hard work," Jewell said. "… This historic settlement is really an opportunity for all of us to get a fresh start in our relationship. It recognizes there’s been a very painful history between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and the U.S. government, but it also recommits us to move forward in good faith."


Jewell said this settlement holds the government accountable for upholding its end of the trusted treaty obligations established more than a century ago.


"This gets the black mark of our history of not doing that off the books so we can move forward together," she said.


The settlement gives the nations $186 million dollars to split — $139.5 million to the Choctaw Nation and $46.5 million to the Chickasaw Nation. In return, the nations will dismiss their lawsuit and inhibit future litigation.


The money will be used to provide assistance for nation members, such as job assistance and prison rehabilitation programs, Batton said. Anoatubby added that the funds will help carry the pride of the nations and see that their culture thrives.


"These dollars are going to continue the rich culture, history and the values that have gotten us to where we can even fight this battle that we had today," he said. "It’s going to go to economic development, it’s going to provide opportunities for our tribal members and it’s definitely going to provide sustainability for our tribe for many years to come."


The original lawsuit was filed by the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations in 2005. The nations were not seeking monetary damages, but instead sought from the government an accounting — an explanation of what happened to hundreds of thousands of acres of tribal land in Oklahoma.


The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations were relocated to these tribal lands after they were removed from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern U.S. more than 100 years ago. The nations, however, allege in their lawsuit that the government mismanaged these lands by selling more than a million acres to timber companies beginning in 1940. The Choctaw and Chickasaw nations argue the federal government never provided an accounting to the nations for the management and sale of the lands, and the funds the government received from selling these lands were not used to replenish the trust held to benefit the nations. Jewell said this has led to a longstanding dispute.


"That’s tough when you’re fighting the organization that is supposed to be your trustee," Jewell said. "… This is 100 years of fighting with your trustee over things that the U.S. government signed up and said they’d do. This (agreement) settles that."


Batton agreed, adding that the settlement turns a page in history and begins a new chapter.


"For many years we were an oppressed people; we did not know which way to turn," Batton said. "But now I believe that this is a time of healing. This is a time that the wound is going to start closing that gap. It’s not just the settlement. It’s the nation-government relationship that we have that has begun today, and I don’t know if you realize how historical this has been for the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. This has never happened in the history of our tribes."


Anoatubby said the settlement was reasonable for everyone concerned, and most importantly avoids another potential 10 years of expensive litigation while protecting his tribe.


"We will continue to protect and defend the rights of our people, but at the same time we will continue striving to improve our working relationship with the federal government and our trustee," he said. "We believe Secretary Jewell will continue to help strengthen that relationship."


Jewell said the Obama administration has put in place measures to ensure that a partnership can continue between the government and the nations and encourage an open line of communication.


"It’s going to be a day-to-day thing, we will do our best to stay on the agenda of the Department of the Interior and continue to work with them, and I think based on what we’ve seen lately, it’s going to be a very positive relationship," Anoatubby said. "If you look at the history of the tribes and the U.S. government in the early days, the doors were open for tribes to come and visit as necessary and work with the federal government. That door seems to be opening again."