Tribal leaders reject BIA reorganization
Facebook Twitter Email

Calling the plan ill-conceived and developed without sufficient input from Indian Country, the nation's largest tribal organization on Wednesday rejected a controversial proposal by the Bush administration to strip the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its trust duties.

In a swift and unanimous action, the more than 200 member tribes of the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution condemning the creation of a new agency that would handle nearly $3.1 billion in tribal and individual Indian trust assets on 54 million acres of land nationwide. They asked the Bush administration to immediately stop reorganization efforts that Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and her top officials have already told a court are underway.

Norton violated executive orders requiring her to seek "meaningful" input on any changes that significantly impact American Indians and Alaska Native, they added. Demanding to be part of any attempt to correct more than one hundred years of mismanagement of their own funds, they urged Congress to suspend any allocation of money for Norton's efforts.

The heavily charged statements made at NCAI's annual convention in Spokane, Washington, come two weeks to the day a small group of tribal leaders were first informed of Norton's intent to develop a new agency. Under the cover of darkness later that night, she gave a broad outline of her scheme to a federal judge.

In doing so, Norton angered tribal leaders and some members of Congress for her 11th-hour action. Her department has furthered sent conflicting messages about its formal consultation with tribes, scheduling only one session but cutting off tribal comments by January 15, 2002.

"This happened right before Thanksgiving, said Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and a leading opponent of the reorganization. "I hope Norton had a good Thanksgiving because we didn't."

"This is an attack on tribal sovereignty," continued Hall, who is running for president of NCAI. "The Secretary is like the grinch who stole consultation."

Despite seeing opposition from tribes, there has been little indication that any top Interior official will listen. For the past two days, tribal leaders have bombarded Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb with criticism about the proposed Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management.

Yet both have given evasive and confusing statements. While McCaleb continues to claim the NCAI gathering is serving as a consultation vehicle, Griles tells tribal leaders the process won't start until December 13 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

And when asked whether he would take tribal dissent seriously enough to scrap the overhaul, Griles yesterday did not directly respond to the query.

"He left the door open," said a conference attendee afterward. "But it's hard to trust what they want to do. They're just not listening"

Upon hearing news that McCaleb and Norton have been ordered to face contempt charges for their handling of individual trust assets, a number of tribal leaders welcomed the development as helping to solidify their opposition. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a current NCAI official, said tribes are supporting a push to place an estimated 300,000 individual accounts into the hands of a receiver, or outside caretaker.

Nevertheless, Allen acknowledged the Interior could still try and push its solution on tribes, underscoring the need for Norton to show she takes her trust responsibilities to heart. "Even if the court takes those [individual] trust functions into receivership," he said, "it doesn't solve the problem."

NCAI's 58th annual convention concludes on Friday, the same day U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth will hold a hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine possible witnesses for a contempt trial that will start next Monday.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton ordered to trial for 'fraud' (11/29)
Indian Country deserves answers (11/29)
Norton to attend consultation session (11/29)
Big showing expected at Norton meeting (11/29)
Swimmer: No clue on historical funds (11/29)
Contempt trial important somewhere (11/29)

Relevant Links:
National Congress of American Indians -
Office of the Special Trustee -
Trust Management Improvement Project -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

Related Stories:
Developing: Norton, McCaleb ordered to contempt trial (11/28)
Norton sees GOP support on overhaul (11/28)
Trust fund settlement talks fail (11/28)
NCAI shoring up Norton opposition (11/28)
Tribal leaders challenging Norton (11/28)
Norton wants to cut Interior jobs (11/28)
Norton failing on trust fund backup (11/27)
Interior schedules first consultation (11/27)
Interior cutting off tribal comments (11/27)
BIA collecting Indian preference info (11/27)
Norton's BIA overhaul blasted (11/26)
Interior changes mind on consultation (11/26)
Indian Country opposition gains momentum(11/26)
Norton faces big week on trust (11/26)
Editorial: Give Norton plan a chance (11/26)
Norton's attorney decries unfairness (11/26)
Norton's choice raises questions (11/26)
Judge holds secret hearing (11/23)
Indian Country slams 'sham' consultation (11/21)
Top trust fund official questioned (11/21)
No Thanksgiving for Indian Country (11/21)
Domenici praises Norton's 'bold move' (11/21)
BIA reorganization a focus of NCAI (11/21)
Reagan's Indian chief is back (11/20)
McCaleb faces Indian preference question (11/20)
Norton defends overhaul of BIA (11/20)
Norton promises fast start (11/20)
Developing: Swimmer tapped by Bush administration (11/19)
Few answers on BIA overhaul (11/19)
Norton challenges trust fund receiver (11/19)
Gover: Indian Country had it coming (11/19)
BIA reorganization focus of radio show (11/19)
Norton defends quarterly reports (11/19)
Norton's 'runaway train' denounced (11/17)
Norton stripping BIA of trust duties (11/16)
Tribal leaders in uproar over proposal (11/16)
Top Democrat calls for hearings (11/16)
Bush officials to speak at NCAI (11/16)
Norton files contempt defense (11/16)
Q&A on BIA Reorganization (11/16)
Developing: BIA stripped of trust duties (11/15)
Interior might need year on new agency (11/15)
Gover: Indian Country now 'weaker' (11/15)