The US Supreme Court Monday ordered the government to repay to Native American tribes the costs of running federal programs including education, homeland security and environmental protection.
In a victory for the Navajo Indians and several other tribes, the top court ruled by five to four the government must reimburse in the full the funding spent on such programs which they run independent of federal authorities.
Under laws governing the Native Americans right to self-determination, the government committed to repay the entire costs of such programs run by the tribes for their people.
But Congress intervened setting a ceiling on such payments, and the Native Americans were not compensated for costs incurred from 1994 to 2001.
In 2000, Congress allocated $1.6 billion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for "the operations of Indian programs," but only $120.2 million was given to the tribes.
Between 1994 and 2001, the payments only covered between 77 percent and 92 percent of the costs, the judgment read.
"We stressed that the government's obligation to pay contract support costs should be treated as an ordinary contract promise," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority ruling which confirmed a Colorado appeals court decision.
"The government was obligated to pay the tribes' contract support costs in full."
In another case however, the Supreme Court agreed that proceedings could be taken against a tribe which had built a casino in northern Michigan.
By eight to one, the court ruled in favor of the case brought against the Pottawatomi tribe which opened a casino close to Grand Rapids.
The plaintiff said the tribe had not recognized a 1934 law on Indian reorganization and as a result the land on which the casino was built was illegally ceded to the tribe by the government. The case will now return to the lower courts for a final decision.
[Navajo Scouts prepare to put out a fire in 2011. AFP Photo/Kevork Djansezian]