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Interior reopens comment period on trust reform rules

For the second time, the Bush administration has extended the public comment period on a major set of trust reform regulations.

In a Federal Register notice published last week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said it would take comments on the proposal until March 12. That gives Indian Country more than a month to weigh in on a broad set of rules affect probate, land title, land conveyances and other trust issues.

"The BIA and Office of Secretary again are extending the comment period by 45 days to ensure that all interested parties, including tribes and individual Indians, have the opportunity to review the proposed rule and prepare their comments," the January 25 notice stated.

The regulations can be easily accessed at, a web site set up for the Interior Department by a private contractor. But that wasn't the case when the 600-plus page proposal was first announced in December 2005.

The National Congress of American Indians complained about the sheer size of the undertaking as well as its scope. The Bush administration subsequently dropped some controversial sections -- one affecting the land-into-trust process and another that would impose a fee structure on tribes and individual Indians for trust services.

Amid efforts to settle the Cobell trust fund lawsuit, the administration then proposed a dramatic reshaping of its trust relationship with tribes and individual Indians. Over 10 years, the government would slowly cede control over the 54-million Indian estate and would no longer accept liability for alleged mismanagement.

With those ideas effectively shelved for now, the Interior Department is still responsible for carrying out a wide range of duties. The proposed regulations are divided into seven major sections: probates, tribal probate codes, the BIA's Land Title and Records Office, land conveyances, estates, administrative appeals and probate hearing procedures.

Within the land title section, Interior wants to charge a fee for maintaining accurate information about allotments. Exceptions can be granted if the service involves land consolidation, which seeks to reduce the number of individual owners for particular parcels of trust property.

The other sections seek to implement the American Indian Probate Reform Act of 2004. The law, which amends the Indian Land Consolidation Act, establishes a uniform probate code for individual Indian allotments that were previously handled under state laws.

The law also encourages tribes to adopt their own probate codes. The proposed regulations define how the Interior Department will review the codes.

To submit comments, interested parties can follow some forms on the DOI site, or go to and use the identifier 1076-AE59.

Comments can also be submitted via email, fax or mail. Michelle Singer, an aide at the BIA in Washington, D.C., is overseeing the effort.

January Federal Register Notice:
Notice of reopening of comment period for proposed rule | PDF

November Federal Register Notice:
Notice of reopening of comment period for proposed rule | PDF

August Federal Register Notice:
Indian Trust Management Reform; Proposed Rule | PDF

Relevant Documents:
Proposed Regulation Changes (Posted by the Inter-Tribal Monitoring Association)

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians -
Intertribal Trust Fund Monitoring Association -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice -