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© 2001 Indian Country Tomorrow
McCaleb Awake Again at Navajo Consultation
Swimmer Assumed To Be In 'Better Place'

After a day berating government officials, Navajo Nation delegate Erwin Keeswood finally concludes his tirade.(NSM)
By Valeria Taliban
Tomorrow Staff Writer
Monday, April 1, 2002

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Department of Interior officials today acknowledged defeat after a consultation session over the proposed reorganization of Indian trust duties entered its second month.

Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb is eating, said Secretary Gale Norton, but it's just Navajo cuisine. "I have given up on him ever tasting good food again," she said in a phone interview.

Indian trust transition director Ross Swimmer hasn't been heard from in three weeks, she added. "We will miss him dearly but I know he's in a better place, where all Cherokee chiefs go when their book deals, banks and campaigns for public office fail," she somberly remarked.

The horrible state of events to which Norton was referring have now become legend in Indian Country. In February, McCaleb, Swimmer and other department officials went to the Navajo Reservation to engage in what they believed would be another meaningless meeting with tribal leaders.

They weren't disappointed, as representatives of the largest tribe in the nation began to rail against the proposed creation of the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM). "Where is the plan? We haven't seen it," said tribal council delegate Erwin "Sparks" Keeswood, at the conclusion of his marathon 32-hour turn at the microphone.

What the department never expected, however, was the trap Navajo leaders devised. Although all visiting tribal dignitaries have been let go in exchange for their 638 contract fees and water rights in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada, Navajo officials have kept McCaleb under lock and key at the Peter MacDonald Memorial Hall and Commodity Distribution Center since February 15. (See "McCaleb Stuck at Consultation Session, ICT, February 18, 2002.)

Things were shaky around March 5, when McCaleb began running madly through the halls and reciting Bible scriptures. "We held a ceremony for him and he was better after a few rounds of peyote," said Nageezi Road Man Tom Begay.

Since then, McCaleb has set up shop in a corner of the main conference room, where he is running the Bureau of Indian Affairs in absentia. "So far, I haven't approved any land-into-trust applications, federal recognition petitions or made any improvements in the administration of the Indian trust," he beamed.

"It's just like it was when I was in Washington, D.C.," he said.

Currently at the podium is Navajo Nation Speaker Edward Begaye. Apparently unaware that Norton contracted last week out the trust fund to Enron Corp. in an attempt to revitalize the troubled firm, he called on her to take BITAM off the table.

"Where is the plan?" he said. "We haven't seen it."

© 2001-2002 Indian Country Tomorrow