FROM THE ARCHIVE

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Tribal consultation already a sham
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2001

Tribal leaders from all over Indian Country will meet today with the Bush administration to discuss a proposed, and opposed, reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Many, understandably, will complain. Like members of Congress, tribes were not consulted prior to the announcement of the dramatic overhaul, despite being the most affected by the decision.

But many more will offer solutions. After seeing their trust funds mismanaged for more than 100 years, they know and understand what it takes to correct the neglect inflicted upon them after their lands were taken by law, executive order or outright theft.

Their suggestions will be ignored.

The Department of the Interior has demonstrated repeatedly that it cannot, and will not, respect the advice the people who know best. Regardless of who is in charge, administration after administration has "listened" to tribal leaders, Native Americans and highly qualified experts -- only to reject their views in favor of doing the least possible at the least expense.

Evidence of this behavior has been demonstrated over and over since the passage of a trust reform act in 1994 and the inception of a class action lawsuit against the government. Despite a mandate from Congress and orders from a federal judge, the Interior has failed to reconcile a single one of the more than 300,000 accounts belonging to American Indians.

And when it reconciled the 1,400 accounts belonging to tribes, some $2.4 billion was determined to be "lost." Yet tribal leaders who dared to ask how the proposed Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management would address this longstanding and unresolved issue were met with silence.

Any doubts about the Interior's shameful actions have been shattered by a contempt trial that convened in federal court this week. A senior and highly credible trust reform official has testified that the government would rather find ways to limit its obligations to Indian Country than come up with a solution to the gross abuse of the Indian Trust.

Information and progress have been kept from Congress and the courts. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent, with nothing to show for it. Decisions have been made, ignoring the wishes of Indian people.

"Does that sound like what a trustee does to help a beneficiary?" asked U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.

"No, your honor," responded Tommy Thompson.

"No, it doesn't, does it?"

"No, your honor."

It has long been clear the trust is broken. But Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's pledge to "listen" at today's session isn't enough.

She must throw herself on the mercy of the court and Indian Country in order to stop the sham that has unfolded before her very eyes.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://indiantrust.doi.gov
Office of the Special Trustee - http://www.ost.doi.gov
Trust Management Improvement Project - http://www.doi.gov/bia/trust/tmip.htm
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

Related Stories:
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Lamberth pokes fun at government (12/12)
Attorneys barred from BITAM consultation (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Editorial: Still ripping off Indians (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Griles in charge of IT reform (12/11)
Editorial: Take criminal steps on trust fund (12/11)
NPR covers BIA overhaul, trust fund (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)
Indian panel urging BITAM slow down (12/10)
Editorial: Appoint IIM receiver (12/10)
Floods more important than Indians (12/10)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)
Indian panel urging BITAM slow down (12/10)
Editorial: Appoint IIM receiver (12/10)
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