The Bureau of Indian Affairs is moving forward with
talks to modernize the agency after encountering a "rocky start,"
assistant secretary Carl Artman said on Tuesday.
The BIA began a series of meetings last week aimed at
soliciting input from Indian Country on how to improve the agency
that serves over 500 tribes and more than 2 million
Challenges include budget constraints, outdated
technology and an aging workforce.
But the first session in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on September 4
wasn't much of a discussion, Artman acknowledged.
Some of the tribal leaders who were present
felt the BIA was already moving to implement plans
without their approval.
"They determined they didn't really want to participate
in the meeting itself," Artman told Indianz.Com in an interview.
"That being said, I fairly understand where they were coming from."
Artman said he wants to assure tribe that there are no plans
on the table. His meetings -- which continue through the end of
the month -- are only the first step in an ongoing dialog
with Indian Country.
"Before I got confirmed and sworn into this position
I told tribal leaders probably what we need to have first is
communication," Artman said.
"I promised I would bring them in at the earliest stage possible
and that's exactly what we're doing right now.
We're making good on that promise."
After the first week of meetings,
Artman came back in Washington, D.C., to deal with
some pressing issues. But as his deputies continue the road tour,
he is encouraging tribal leaders to make their views known.
"We're making it really clear out there that this is a dialog,"
said Majel Russell, the BIA's new principal deputy assistant secretary.
"It's a dialog driven by the tribes on how we maintain effective
consultation and how we support tribal sovereignty and self-determination."
The issues being discussed weigh heavily on that relationship, the BIA
officials said. Limited federal resources, a lack of Internet
connectivity and an employee force with large numbers nearing retirement
will affect how the agency provides services.
"The fact is nearly 40% of the current Indian Affairs workforce
will be eligible for retirement within the next 5 years," Artman
wrote in a letter to tribes in August.
"This represents a considerable potential
loss of experience and knowledge for the organization, and it is
time for us to plan how we will
address this loss of experience and knowledge."
The talks are Artman's first major foray into Indian Country
since being confirmed in March.
They come as he is making some changes in his leadership team
Effective this coming Monday, Jerry Gidner will be the
new director of the BIA. He is replacing
Pat Ragsdale, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma,
who will be the new deputy director of law enforcement services.
"Pat's a former police officer," said Artman. "He brings a lot of
understanding from the rank-and-file police officers.
Chris Chaney, a member of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma,
is leaving law enforcement to serve as deputy director for Indian
Services, the job Gidner used to hold.
Additionally, Artman has appointed two counselors. One is Sequoyah Simermeyer, who used to
work for the National Congress of American Indians, and the other is Andrea
Lord, who is on detail from the National Indian Gaming Commission.
"We've got a well developed team here now," Artman said.
"I've got no more excuses," he joked.
The modernization meetings end September 28.
There is no timeframe on what steps the BIA will take
but Artman said it will take about two to three weeks
to compile the information and share it with tribes in a
The BIA also plans to give an update on the effort during
the National Congress of American Indians annual conference
in October and at other tribal meetings.
"I do want to be able to continue the conversations,"
Emphasizing the open nature of the talks, Artman said he has
no preconceived notions on where they will go.
"Maybe at the end of the day, we're going to hear from the tribes,
"It that's the case, so be it," he said.
Bureau of Indian Affairs - http://www.doi.gov/bureau-indian-affairs.html
Related Stories:Artman makes leadership changes at BIA
(9/11) BIA plans meetings on modernization initiative
Crow woman named to number two position at
Gaming rules behind schedule, BIA head confirms
Cason explains misgivings on land-into-trust
Artman hopes to address backlogs as head of BIA
Artman still recused on Iroquois tribal issues
Jodi Rave: BIA decision-making slow without
(3/7) Artman ready to get to work
as assistant secretary
Oneida Nation proud of Carl Artman
(3/7) Carl Artman confirmed as assistant secretary
(3/6)Update from NCAI 2007 winter
session: Day 3
(3/1)Update from NCAI
2007 winter session: Day 2
(2/28)Congressional Record: Support for Carl Artman
(2/22) Senate panel promises strong
backing for BIA nominee
for Senate confirmation hearing again