FROM THE ARCHIVE

McCaleb hedges on the C-word

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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2002

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb sometimes gets into trouble with the words he uses. Not with tribal leaders and others, though, but with himself.

Earlier this month, he caught himself when he used the word "termination" to describe some of his trust management duties. "I used the T-word and I wish I hadn't," he told the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) organization.

Now, he's worried about his use of the C-word. Consultation.

Yesterday at the National Congress of American Indians, he joked lightly about the eight meetings the Department of Interior has held regarding the creation of a new Indian trust agency. Tribal leaders have criticized the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM) as well as the set-up of the sessions.

Responding to that, McCaleb said: "I won't call them 'consultation.'"

So instead, he stuck to "meetings." Tribal leaders use the word "scoping" to describe the glorified gripe sessions that have been held throughout the country.

Nevertheless, McCaleb extended an olive branch to Indian Country and said the department was committed to working with a tribal task force to develop solutions to a problem "as old as the Dawes Act," he said. The Dawes Act parceled out land to individual Indians, creating the trust that a federal judge is considering removing from McCaleb's grasp.

"It has defied a satisfactory solution for 114 years," McCaleb said of the trust.

McCaleb also praised nearly a dozen alternatives offered by tribes as "insightful" and thoughtful." His boss, Secretary Gale Norton, has gotten into hot water for claiming BITAM is "superior" to the tribal options.

Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a task force member, praised McCaleb for reaching out. But he challenged the department to fund the panel so that work could move forward.

"I believe you do have the money," he said, rejecting explanations that there aren't fund available for the task force. He said the Office of the Special Trustee "has the money."

"The Secretary has an obligation to deal with this matter," he added.

Norton and McCaleb agreed to fund the task force with $500,000. But according to NCAI President Tex Hall, the department hasn't signed a contract to carry out its end of the bargain.

Dennis Charley, an Alaska Native leader, echoed the sentiments and told McCaleb tribal leaders should be reimbursed for travel, lodging, food and other costs. "Take care of us when we're there and we'll take care of your problem," he said.

McCaleb didn't provide an immediate answer to the requests. He did say department officials are looking forward to attending the next task force meeting, scheduled to take place in Phoenix, Arizona, next week.

McCaleb rounded out his address by saying he was happy the Individual Indian Money (IIM) class action lawsuit was filed. "I think the Cobell litigation is a blessing," he said.

"It focused national attention on this issue," he continued. "Five years ago, nobody knew, so nobody cared outside of Indian Country."

"Now, they do," he said.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Key trust reform player leaving BIA (2/28)

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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