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US Government to Settle Navajo Claims for $554 Million

FILE - Ben Shelly, the President of the Navajo Nation, left, and Lorenzo Bates, Navajo Council Delegate walk outside the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Feb. 19, 2014.

The U.S. government will finalize a settlement on Friday to pay the Navajo Nation a record $554 million in a dispute with claims going back more than 50 years.

It is the largest sum ever paid by the U.S. government to a single Indian tribe. In return, the Navajo Nation agreed to dismiss lawsuits over mismanagement of the tribe’s resources and funds. The agreement does not stop the tribe from pursuing future claims.

The deal was the result of litigation accusing the government of mismanaging trust accounts and resources on more than 5.7 million hectares of land belonging to the Navajo. The land has been leased for agricultural use, mining, and oil and gas production.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly hailed the outcome as a "victory for tribal sovereignty" and promised to host town hall meetings to decide how to allocate settlement funds. The Navajo Nation is the most populous American Indian tribe, with more than 300,000 members, and the largest by land mass, occupying 27,000 square miles (70,000 sq km) across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

"After a long, hard-won process, I am pleased that we have finally come to a resolution on this matter to receive fair and just compensation for the Navajo Nation," Shelly said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the agreement historic and said it showed the Justice Department's commitment to "strengthening our partnership with tribal nations."

U.S. tribes have filed more than 100 law suits against the federal government.

The Interior Department says it is working to settle cases without going to trial. Since early 2012, the government has resolved about 80 cases, amounting to $2.5 billion.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.