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© 2001 Indian Country Tomorrow
McCaleb Stuck at Consultation Session
Navajos Turn Meeting into BITAM Filibuster

Navajo Nation delegate Erwin Keeswood begins his tirade.(NSM)
By Wrenda Worried-About-Her-Job
Tomorrow Staff Writer
Monday, February 18, 2002

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Department of Interior officials and senior citizen health experts issued urgent pleas early Sunday morning to the Navajo Nation, begging the tribe to release Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb.

McCaleb has been trapped at the tribe's capitol since Friday morning, when he and top aides began another consultation session on the proposed creation of the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM). Although Navajo officials have attended every prior meeting and spoken at great and tedious length about their opposition to the new agency, they demanded the department come to their reservation, a request that was accommodated earlier this month.

But as with many Navajo dealings, the seemingly innocent invitation quickly turned into a trap. Once McCaleb was inside the Peter MacDonald Memorial Hall and Commodity Distribution Center, the doors were locked and no one has left the building since.

"Please let Neal go," said Secretary Gale Norton at a hastily convened press conference just outside the tribal headquarters. "The golf courses in Oklahoma need him."

"My husband has already missed church and our pastor is getting upset," added wife, Georgann, who was sprinted to Arizona in a plane owned by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

But tribal officials were adamant in their refusal to release the 66-year-old McCaleb. "When BITAM is taken off the table, then he can go home," said Navajo council member Erwin "No Electricity" Keeswood, in response.

The message was repeated to no end as the Navajos passed the microphone from one delegate to another, displaying the "tag team" tactics they have perfected at eight consultations so far. As of press time, only five Navajos had spoken, with hundreds still waiting in line.

McCaleb at first appeared up to the task and stayed alert until noon. His strength clearly diminished after lunch and he soon fell asleep, rousing only occasionally. Fry bread and mutton have been plentiful, but he has refused the food, believing it could be poisoned or blander than spit.

Mysteriously, department official Ross Swimmer fell ill and was taken to a closed room. Indian Country Tomorrow was unable to determine his whereabouts and frankly did not care.

Although McCaleb is said to be in good spirits, health experts warned he could go at any time. "A man of his age needs to eat something, even if it is high-fat, high-sugar, has no nutritional value whatsoever and tastes bad, like most Navajo food," said Yvonne Brown, executive director of the National Indian Health Board.

McCaleb isn't the only one prevented from leaving the reservation. Dozens of tribal leaders from throughout Indian Country who made the mistake of attending the meeting are stuck, too.

"My cell phone doesn't even work here," said John "The Real" McCoy, chairman of the Tulip Tribes of Oregon. "How am I supposed to find out how Wall Street is doing? I know I shouldn't have come."

© 2001-2002 Indian Country Tomorrow