HELENA — A judge has authorized the start of payments to American Indians in a $3.4 billion settlement involving the federal government's mishandling of land trust royalties.

The settlement was the result of a lawsuit originally filed by Elouise Cobell of Browning, Mont. Cobell died of cancer last year.

A law firm representing Cobell and others said Wednesday that a judge authorized it to start sending $1,000 checks to about 350,000 beneficiaries.

Attorney Keith Harper says the firm wants to get the first round of checks to as many as possible before Christmas.

More payments will be made in 2013.

The settlement is one of the largest ever for the U.S. government.

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