Sen. Byron Dorgan Statement on S.1439

The following is the text of a Senate floor statement by Sen. Byron Dorgan on S.1439, the Indian Trust Reform Act of 2005. July 20, 2005.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I am pleased to join Senator McCain in introducing this historic legislation. This bill is a necessary starting point to begin resolution of the longstanding claims in the Cobell v. Norton litigation, which involves the Federal Government's mismanagement of hundreds of thousands of individual Indian money accounts. The bill was drafted in a bipartisan manner and attempts to address the principles recently developed and set forth by Indian Country.

I want to thank the National Congress of American Indians and the InterTribal Monitoring Association for leading the consultative process utilized in developing these principles. Those principles helped guide the drafting of this bill. The current language of the bill, however, is not perfect. Rather, it is intended to be a starting point for substantive and productive dialogue between the parties. Recently, the parties engaged in a 9-month mediation process that failed to result in any type of potential resolution. This litigation is nearly a decade old and has no end in sight. It is my hope that this bill will assist the parties in reaching some type of resolution of this litigation.

The individual Indian trust account system was not a voluntary system elected by the individual Indians, but rather one imposed upon them by the federal government more than one hundred years ago. The Federal Government serves as trustee of these accounts and the individual Indians are beneficiaries. Unfortunately, the Cobell litigation has brought to light a very disturbing problem: the Federal Government, as trustee, may not be able to provide an accurate and proper historical accounting of these accounts. Moreover, the Federal Government may not know the proper balances of these accounts nor have sufficient documentation to determine the value of these accounts. Further, government officials have stated that a full transaction-by-transaction accounting, presuming one can be performed, would cost more than $10 billion. This cost would not include any monies determined to be unaccounted for or the interest on those monies.

The claims in the Cobell litigation on examples of broken promises and trust responsibilities to the Native Americans of this country, but it is my hope and desire that this bill will help us keep those promises, fulfill our responsibilities to Native Americans, and restore trust and faith in our government. If Congress continues to allow the Cobell litigation to proceed, the individual beneficiaries of these accounts will not be alive to reap the benefits these accounts and the trust resource management system were intended to bestow.

It is an honor to serve as Vice Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs alongside chairman McCain. We have publicly pledged that we will make our best effort to resolve this long overdue injustice to the first Americans. The introduction of this bill is the first step toward that goal.