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Tribes plan own bill as Senate takes up trust reform

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold an oversight hearing on trust reform next week amid increased efforts by tribes and Congress to resolve the debacle.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), chairman of the committee, said he wants to settle the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit and reform the trust system. He addressed tribal leaders on Tuesday during the National Congress of American Indians winter session in Washington, D.C.

"It's a terrible injustice and it needs to be fixed," McCain said of the trust. "If we don't fix it then it's going to impact everything that we do."

Tribes need to be a part of the solution, NCAI President Tex Hall said in response yesterday. He convened a meeting in Washington to discuss the drafting of a national tribal legislative trust reform and settlement proposal.

"Indian Country needs to seize the moment and come up with our own bill to give to Congress. If we don't, the price we will pay for our inaction, is that Congress will give us a bill instead," Hall said.

The meeting was co-chaired by Jim Gray, chief of the Osage Nation and chairman of the Intertribal Monitoring Association, and Ron Allen, treasurer of NCAI. The tribes discussed how to draft a bill in the next three months.

"I have made it clear that NCAI wants to work hard with every single interested Indian tribe and organization," said Hall. That is why today I called a workgroup of NCAI members together to draft a solution in consultation with all of Indian Country."

Hall and Gray will testify at the hearing next Wednesday, March 9. "We will explain why this issue is so important to Indian Country and why Congress must consult first with Indian Country before any legislation is introduced," Hall said.

The hearing is the second this year on the issue. Last month, the House Resources Committee held a hearing that focused on talks to settle the Cobell lawsuit.

Both sides -- the plaintiffs and the Bush administration -- reported little progress. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California), chairman of the committee, said he intends to work with the parties on a potential legislative solution to the lawsuit.

The Senate is expected to focus on the reform side of the debate. At NCAI this week and during a Senate hearing last month, McCain criticized the administration's decision to boost the Office of Special Trustee budget significantly while cutting critical Indian programs.

"For us to deprive tribes of programs that support self-governance is clearly a self-defeating enterprise," McCain said.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -

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