Advertise:   712.224.5420

Tribes hurt by Missouri River face a wary McCain

South Dakota tribes seeking additional compensation from the federal government found a skeptical audience in Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) on Wednesday.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe came to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to seek more money for thousands of acres of valuable land, sacred sites and other property they lost when the federal government created dams on the Missouri River from the 1940s to the 1960s. Tribal leaders said they wanted to improve their economies and the quality of life on their reservations.

"Our best land was taken to benefit America. Our tribe is not seeking charity, we are seeking justice and parity," stated Lower Brule Sioux Chairman Michael Jandreau.

But McCain, the chairman of the committee, questioned whether more funds are justified. Although he acknowledged he wasn't well-versed on the issue, he expressed concerns about the tribes' decision to return to Congress to reopen their previously-approved settlements.

In the case of the Lower Brule Sioux, Congress created a trust fund worth $39.3 million and the tribe is asking for $129 million to be added to the account. The Crow Creek Sioux want $68 million added to their $27.5 million account.

"Is this the last time we are going to come back and ask for more money?" McCain said. "It looks to me like this is the third or fourth trip to the trough here."

Appearing to support McCain was the Government Accountability Office. Robin Nazzaro, the director of natural resources and environment, said the money being sought by both tribes was out of line with settlements received by other Missouri River tribes.

Her testimony stated that Congress set aside money for the tribes in 1958, in 1962 and again in the 1990s, when the latest trust accounts were created. "The bills would catapult the Crow Creek Sioux and Lower Brule Sioux tribes ahead of the other tribes and set a precedent for the other tribes to seek a third round of compensation," she told the committee.

Other senators rushed to defend S.374, the Tribal Parity Act. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the vice chairman of the committee, Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), said the figures previously approved by Congress weren't enough to meet the needs of the two tribes.

"I think it is clear ... that the original compensation was inadequate," observed Dorgan, whose tribes in North Dakota are still dealing with effects of the Missouri River projects.

Crow Creek Chairman Lester Thompson discarded the idea that the tribes have been treated fairly throughout the process. "There was no negotiation at the time that the people of both tribes were uprooted and displaced," he testified. "It came down to, 'Move or else.'"

"You really can't put a price on this," he added.

Jandreau tried to address McCain's concern that the tribes might come back to Congress yet again for more money. He said he would recommend the tribe accept the bill as a final settlement but warned that individual tribal members have a right to voice opinions to the contrary.

"I think they have the right to express their opinion, but if we keep revisiting this issue you will not find a great deal of sympathy from the chairman of this committee," McCain responded.

"Thank you very much for your directness," said Jandreau.

Another bill on the committee's agenda drew less scrutiny. S.1535, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Amendments Act, would allow the tribe to pay individual landowners out of a $290 million trust fund established by Congress. The bill also makes changes to the way the trust fund is handled.

Different versions of S.374, the Tribal Parity Act, have passed the Senate three times. But the bill has never passed the House.

GAO Testimony:
Calculations for the Crow Creek Sioux and Lower Brule Sioux Tribes Differ from Approach Used in Prior GAO Reports (June 14, 2006)

Hearing Info:
Legislative Hearing on S. 374, the Tribal Parity Act, and S. 1535, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Equitable Compensation Amendments Act of 2005 (June 14, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe -
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -