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NCAI and ITMA hold second trust reform meeting

The National Congress of American Indians and the Intertribal Monitoring Association concluded their second meeting on trust reform in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Tuesday.

The meeting was co-chaired by NCAI President Tex Hall and ITMA Chairman Jim Gray and hosted by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. They led a discussion among tribal leaders, Indian landowners and Congressional staff members on efforts to draft legislation that would reform the Indian trust and settle the Cobell v. Norton lawsuit.

"This is a monstrosity we're talking about," said Shirley. "We're talking about billions and billions of dollars. Were trying to come to a resolution for an injustice that has been done. It's a tough case. It's very complex. But as far as I know, if we can come together, we can make a settlement on behalf of our allottees."

Despite the difficult talks, Hall and Gray said they were encouraged by the progress. "At the end of the day, what this is about is creating real ownership and responsibility for our own assets," said Hall. Added Gray: "Our recommendations will bring accountability and fairness to the system."

The tribal workgroup plans to submit a proposal to Congress that will address four major issues: settlement of Cobell, reform at the Interior Department, land consolidation and trust asset mismanagement. The next meetings will take place Tacoma, Washington on May 19, and in Bismarck, North Dakota on June 1.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said earlier this year that he wants to resolve outstanding trust issues. But he warned that he would only give it "one good shot."

"If it looks like we're not getting anywhere," McCain said at a hearing in March, "then I will leave that task to future Congresses and the courts."

The goal of the workgroup is to submit legislation to McCain and the Senate committee by early June. Additional hearings could be held in the summer in hopes of making changes during the Congressional recess in August.

Tribes have diverged widely with the Bush administration on reform efforts at Interior. At the hearing in March, the committee was told that the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and expansion of the Office of Special Trustee does not address key trust issues such as standards and oversight.

The Cobell plaintiffs are also at odds with the administration over reform and the amount owed to Indian beneficiaries for the use of their land. Mediated talks organized by the Senate and House have failed to produce any concrete solutions.

Working together, the tribes and the Cobell plaintiffs are drafting legislation that would resolve the lawsuit in a way that is fair and equitable. Language to settle the case has been proposed and circulated among the workgroup for discussion.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -

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