FROM THE ARCHIVE
NCAI's Hall testifies on impact of shutdown
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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2002

The leader of the nation's largest tribal organization testified on Wednesday of the dramatic effect the Department of Interior's computer shutdown has had on Indian Country, drawing the attention of a federal judge who doubted whether he can force the government to live up to its responsibilities.

On the last day of Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's contempt trial, National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall described numerous hardships facing Indian landowners. As chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, he said over 6,000 tribal members -- including himself -- have not received trust payments since last November.

"Any day now," is the answer received when the Bureau of Indian Affairs is asked when the funds will be distributed, Hall said.

As a result, there has been a domino effect on the health and welfare of tribal members. From ranchers whose economic livelihood depends on proceeds from agricultural leases to elders whose sole source of income is money derived from Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, the lack of payments has hurt the reservation, he said.

"It's really a devastating issue for our account holders," Hall testified.

Hall pointed out a particularly difficult situation facing a 60-year-old elder, whose leg was recently amputated and who needs to travel a long distance to receive health care. As a large landowner, she should be able to purchase a handicapped-equipped vehicle to take care of herself, he said, but can't because she hasn't received her money.

"She's basically going without," he said.

Due to the ongoing shutdown, tribal members are now turning to the tribe for loans, Hall said. But the tribe can't extend money because the collateral they would normally have -- an IIM check -- is non-existent.

"Their credit is ruined," he testified.

The federal government is turning a blind eye as well, he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture won't offer loans, even as a last resort, when commercial ranchers have no credit.

"I can't emphasize this enough: the IIM check is important," Hall said.

Hall's remarks drew the attention of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who earlier in the day blasted the government for not resolving the issue. Although Lamberth's court has granted permission for the Integrated Records Management System (IRMS) to be restarted, it would appear there are still numerous delays regarding leasing payments.

As for the oil and gas payments, the department has acknowledged it hasn't made any. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles promised last week the department would disburse the funds as soon as possible.

But Lamberth questioned whether forcing the department to fulfill its trust obligations would improve matters. Attorneys representing the IIM beneficiaries have asked for a court order to do just that.

"What good would that do?" Lamberth wondered. "They haven't obeyed a court order I made yet."

In response, attorney Dennis Gingold renewed calls to put Norton and other top officials in jail. He also suggested that her paycheck, and those of other employees, be withheld.

"As long as the taxpayers are paying the bill," Gingold asserted, "nothing's going to change."

"Our clients can't afford it."

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://130.94.214.68/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

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email@nps.gov sputtering through (2/19)
No payments hurt Indian Country (2/14)
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Norton concludes testimony (2/13)
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Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Federal judge resuming Norton contempt trial (1/31)
Norton effort 'too little, too late' for judge (1/16)
Interior official denies trust fund 'conspiracy' (1/15)
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
Dom Nessi expected as Norton witness (1/14)
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The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
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Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)

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