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Senate finally confirms Artman to head BIA

The Senate voted 87-1 on Monday to confirm Carl Artman as the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, ending a Republican stalemate that underscored the two-year leadership void at the Interior Department.

With all but 12 senators in attendance, Artman won near unanimous support for his confirmation as the tenth assistant secretary for Indian affairs. Only Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana), a critic of the BIA and off-reservation gaming, opposed the nomination.

The vote came after Artman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, aggressively courted Republicans on Capitol Hill. In recent weeks, he sought to overcome holds members of his own party placed on his nomination.

Last year, the Senate Republican majority refused to let Artman advance to an up-or-down floor vote, citing concerns about record. As general counsel for the Oneida Nation, he helped advance a land claim settlement that would have allowed the tribe to open an off-reservation casino in New York.

Republicans made off-reservation gaming a big issue during the 109th Congress, creating an atmosphere that doomed Artman's nomination. But with Democrats in control of the Senate, as well as the House, they promised swift action to fill a position that was left vacant for two years by the Bush administration.

"Mr. Artman is clearly qualified for the job and I look forward to working with him to address the challenges that face our American Indian communities," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "I'm proud that our committee was able to move this nomination forward in this new Congress in a timely manner."

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne also hailed the Senate's action. "Carl is an outstanding choice to oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs because of his extensive experience working with and for tribal governments as well as in the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government," he said after the vote.

"I have personally worked with him and know he will ably serve his fellow American Indians, Alaska Natives and all Americans as we address important issues, such as education, law enforcement and economic development in Indian Country," Kempthorne added.

The Oneida Nation was pleased as well. "I think there was tremendous support for Carl," observed Bobbi Webster, the public relations director for the tribe. "That's phenomenal," she said of the near unanimous vote. "You can't get too much better than that."

All that's left to make the move official is for Artman, who currently serves as assistant solicitor for Indian affairs at Interior, to be sworn in. Nedra Darling, a spokesperson for the BIA, didn't know when that might happen, but said she expects it would occur soon.

Tribal leaders across Indian Country have been eager to see Artman confirmed, citing his strong background on matters such as land-into-trust, economic development, taxation and sovereignty. "He's very well versed in Indian law and understands our issues," said Ron Allen, the treasurer of the National Congress of American Indians, during the organization's winter session in Washington last week.

"He's been a very good friend," added Allen, who serves as chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington. "It's really important to get him in office so that he can actually conduct his affairs as assistant secretary."

During his appearance at NCAI last Wednesday, Artman said he would make public safety and education a priority. The Bush administration is seeking $16 million to address the methamphetamine crisis in Indian Country and $15 million to improve achievement levels at BIA schools.

Artman also vowed to resolve bottlenecks in the land-into-trust process. Tribes are often forced to wait several years to hear answers on their requests to reacquire traditional lands for non-gaming purposes.

"Having a backlog of 2,000 -- I've heard even more applications -- is ridiculous," Artman told tribal leaders. "We need to take care of that issue."

At the same time, land-into-trust applications for casinos remain a hot topic, particularly since Kempthorne opposed off-reservation when he was governor of Idaho. The BIA is finalizing regulations that seek to provide concrete guidance for these types of acquisitions.

Once Artman is sworn in, he will take over the reins of the BIA from Jim Cason, a non-Indian political appointee who has overseen the agency since February 2004. Cason, the associate deputy secretary at Interior, was not a presidential nominee and was not subject to Senate confirmation.

Senate Roll Call:
On the Nomination (Confirmation Carl J. Artman, of Colorado, to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior) (March 5, 2007)

Sen. Dorgan Statement:

Hearing Webcast/Testimony:
CONFIRMATION HEARING on the President's nomination of Mr. Carl Joseph Artman, to be Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior (February 1, 2007)

September 2006 Senate Confirmation Hearing:
Webcast | Carl Artman Testimony

White House News:
Personnel Announcement (August 1, 2006)

Relevant Links:
Oneida Nation -
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -