Tribe members will receive settlement money this week

Ute Mountain Ute tribal members won’t have to wait for a federal judge’s approval to receive the first benefits from a $42.6 million settlement with the federal government.

Ute Mountain Ute tribal leadership decided to use trust monies to fund payments of up to $2,000 to each of its members. The tribe’s approximately 2,000 members will receive the payments this week, a week before the settlement will receive a final hearing in federal district court.

The trust fund will be reimbursed “if and when the settlement dollars are received by the Tribe,” according to a letter from the tribe’s treasurer.

The individual payments will come from the tribe’s Per Capita Trust fund, according to the letter. Every adult will receive $2,000 and every minor child will receive $1,000.

“We understand that many of you are in great need of immediate help. We also understand the importance of making sure that future generations of Tribal members are not forgotten as we move forward,” Chairman Gary Hayes wrote in an April 27 letter to tribal members.

Tribal members had presented a petition to the council April 23 concerning the settlement money.

The Ute Mountain Utes were one of 42 tribes who settled for a total of $1 billion over the federal mismanagement of tribal money and trust lands. The news was announced last month.

A federal judge is scheduled to hear the settlement May 16. If approval is granted, the tribe will receive the money in four to eight weeks, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The federal government hasn’t put any limitations on how the tribe can spend its $43 million. According to the settlement agreement, “the entire (settlement amount) shall be available for use by (the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe) as it decides in its sole discretion.”

The Ute Mountain Ute constitution, however, requires approval from the Secretary of the Interior if per capita payments exceed half of the unreserved net operating profits from tribal enterprises.

That requirement is one that must be respected but also needs to be updated, Hayes wrote in the letter to members.

The Tribal Council is still working on various plans and options concerning the settlement, according to the treasurer’s letter.