£2.1bn is record payout for American Indians

A Federal judge has approved a $3.4 billion (£2.1 billion) payout to American Indians in a case that represents the largest legal settlement ever agreed by the US government.

Elouise Cobell of Browning, Montana, claimed in the 15-year-old suit that for more than a century, US officials systematically stole or squandered billions in royalties intended for American Indians in exchange for oil, gas, grazing and other leases.

US District Judge Thomas Hogan approved the settlement late on Monday after a day-long hearing and said: "The government mismanaged these resources on a staggering scale."

The settlement still does not make up for the losses Indian tribes suffered for more than a century, Mr Hogan added, but "at least it provides some certainty" to hundreds of thousands of individual Indians who will now receive payments of least $1,000 each. Many will receive substantially more.

Ms Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, will receive $2 million, and three other named plaintiffs will receive payments ranging from $150,000 to $200,000 each.

The lawsuit was settled in December 2009 after years of court battles and appeals but the case still needed Mr Hogan's approval.

President Barack Obama said the decision "marks another important step forward in the relationship between the federal government and Indian Country".

Under the settlement $1.5 billion will go to at least 300,000 Indian account holders. Another $1.9 billion will be used to buy back and consol- idate tribal land that has become subdivided and difficult to manage over the years.

An additional $60 million will go to a scholarship fund for Indian students.