FROM THE ARCHIVE
Ashcroft urged to charge BIA officials
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FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2002

The Department of Justice is being asked to bring criminal charges against former and current Bureau of Indian Affairs officials in response to an internal report which documents problems with their handling of federal recognition petitions.

In a letter, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Thursday asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to reconsider decisions not to prosecute Michael Anderson, Hilda Manuel and Sharon Blackwell. Citing the "appalling" behavior of the officials, two of whom are no longer employed by the Department of Interior, he urged Ashcroft to act.

"[T]he Department of Justice has, to date, declined to prosecute individuals despite clear evidence of illegal activity," he wrote. "I implore you to reevaluate this decision."

Wolf's request comes after he was provided with an investigation conducted by the Department of Interior. Inspector General Earl Devaney spent several months probing the Clinton administration's recognition of several tribes.

In particular, the investigation focused on Anderson's decision to recognize the Duwamish Tribe of Washington. As head of the BIA during the last weeks of the Clinton administration, he agreed to acknowledge the tribe on January 19, 2001, the day before President Bush took over.

But according to the IG report, he didn't actually sign the paperwork until January 22. When the apparent omission was discovered, he went back to the Department of Interior and signed the documents "while sitting in his car outside the building," the report states.

According to the report, Anderson admitted to signing the documents. Wolf called this "a violation of federal law."

Former Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hilda Manuel is cited for her work on the federal recognition petition of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts. The Justice Department declined to pursue the case although her lobbying for the tribe after she left the BIA in early 2000 has been questioned.

Current commissioner Sharon Blackwell, who oversees the staff which researches petitions, was also cited but it was unclear whether her actions constituted potential violations of law. She is retiring from the BIA in June.

In addition to the letter to Ashcroft, Wolf wrote Secretary Gale Norton and asked her to introduce legislation to reform the federal recognition system. "The report confirmed my suspicions that the federal tribal recognition process has been compromised," he wrote.

"In light of the abuses documented in the report, I urge you to move quickly to submit legislative proposals to Congress which would address the present weaknesses in the process," he continued.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb is opposing removing recognition duties from the BIA. But of the decisions which were signed in the final weeks of the Clinton administration, he has reversed all of them.

He is also reconsidering the recognition of the Chinook Nation of Washington. Former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover signed a final determination to recognize the tribe on January 3, 2001.

Related Documents:
Letter to Ashcroft | Letter to Norton

Related Stories:
Key trust reform player leaving BIA (2/28)
Sharon Blackwell leaving BIA (2/27)
Gover: Recognition study 'cooked' (11/1)
Changes to gaming law sought (6/19)
Trust land decision called sneaky (2/5)
Recognition of Va. tribes opposed (1/26)
Congressman to hold Indian press conference (12/19)
Republicans want gaming investigation (12/18)

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