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Artman jumps into new job as head of BIA

A month into the job, the new head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs doesn't expect gaming to take the spotlight in the remaining years of the Bush administration.

Carl Artman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, is instead focusing on some of the core issues in Indian Country. They include public safety, education and economic development.

"Those three combined will have both a short term and long term impact" on American Indians and Alaska Natives, Artman said in an interview in his Washington, D.C., office yesterday.

That doesn't mean the $23 billion, and expanding, Indian gaming industry won't be an important issue. The BIA is responsible for reviewing land-into-trust applications, gaming compacts and federal recognition petitions, all of which are tied to casinos.

"Is it taking up the majority of my time?" Artman said of gaming. "Not even close."

Artman said he's been spending a lot of time on law enforcement, given the high priority the administration and tribes have placed on combating methampetamine. The BIA's budget for 2008 includes a proposal to spend an additional $16 million to address the crisis.

Just last week, he was in New Mexico, where he met with tribal leaders across the state and visited Laguna Pueblo. There, he got first-hand experience with tribal law enforcement, riding in a police cruiser during a patrol of the reservation and visiting the local detention center.

"They are working and going the best they can" with limited funding, Artman said of the tribal police officers. Of the detention center, which he said was in less than stellar condition, "I know there are a lot worse facilities out there."

In the short term, the money will put more officers on reservations and increase staffing levels at detention facilities. In the long term, Artman said it leads to safer communities.

Another issue high on the agenda is education. The 2008 budget proposed an additional $15 million to help the lowest-performing schools meet No Child Left Behind Act standards.

"You're not only creating better educated youth in the future but you're creating better educated parents," he said. "Education leads to jobs. Education leads to better governments."

"So I think you are going to see some long-term impacts," he said.

A third area of concern for Artman is economic development. He said he wants to remove impediments at the BIA that may have kept tribes from succeeding, particularly when it comes to the land-into-trust process.

With about 1,300 applications pending, Artman said it was crucial to address bottlenecks in the process. He hopes to bring in more staff at the regional offices to reduce the backlog, which has some tribes waiting several years for an answer.

"It touches on a lot of issues," Artman said of land-into-trust. Although it is most often associated with gaming, Artman pointed out that tribes need land for economic development, housing, governance and cultural protection.

"Those are all areas when you take land into trust and the tribe has the ability to exercise its sovereignty, you're going to see better solutions in the end," Artman said. "It's the tribe helping itself in those areas. It's the tribe expanding into those areas with greater assurance because it knows its land is being protected under the trust rubric."

In addition to cutting some of the red tape in the short term, Artman said the BIA hopes to make some long term impacts by revamping the entire land-into-trust process. He didn't have a time frame on the development of new regulations but said he would consult tribal leaders before coming to any conclusions about the changes that might be needed.

Artman was confirmed by the Senate on March 5 by a near unanimous vote. He was sworn in to the job that same week but the BIA is inviting Indian Country to a public ceremony next Wednesday, April 18, at 3:30pm at the main Interior Department building in Washington.

DOI Press Release:
Michael Olsen to Leave Indian Affairs for ASLM; George Skibine to Serve as Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (March 30, 2007)

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

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:
Interior Department -
Oneida Nation -