Smooth sailing expected for McCaleb today
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JUNE 13, 2001

Its Oklahoma's day in the spotlight as Neal McCaleb goes before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for his confirmation hearing today.

Home to more than 30 federally recognized tribes and the second largest concentration of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the country, the state has a distinctive Native character. But the all-Sooner delegation who will testify in favor of McCaleb is less a testament to Indian Country than it is a marker of his pedigree in Republican politics.

As a former state lawmaker and the state's current Secretary of Transportation, the 65-year-old member of the Chickasaw Nation has received positive reviews from the Oklahoma's GOP stronghold. Governor Frank Keating (R) calls McCaleb a "trusted friend and adviser" who has served under two Republican administrations.

Chiming in with accolades today will be Oklahoma's two conservative Republican Senators: Don Nickles and James Inhofe. While both have worked with tribes and Inhofe is a member of the committee, their records on Indian issues -- like those of other lawmakers -- haven't always sat too well with tribal leaders.

Nickles, for instance, has long opposed transferring Fort Reno -- an abandoned, out of commission US Army post -- to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe, who had the land taken away from them in 1883. He crafted a legislative plan last fall which leaves a key part of the decision up to the Bush administration.

Yet the sole tribal leader scheduled to testify today isn't poised to push McCaleb on thorny issues like land-into-trust, which Secretary of Interior Gale Norton is currently studying. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, a Democrat, has supported his fellow tribal member glowingly since President Bush announced the nomination in April.

That doesn't mean McCaleb won't be facing tough questions from the committee. Vice Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have been among the most vocal critics of mismanagement of trust funds at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an issue McCaleb has pledged to make a priority.

Similarly, McCaleb's promise to make life better for Native Hawaiians would also catch the eye of Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). Along with fellow committee member Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), he is pushing a bill to extend federal recognition to Native Hawaiians, legislation which failed to clear the Senate last session.

Other big issues facing McCaleb include tribal priority allocations, education of Indian students, and Indian gaming. As head of the BIA, McCaleb would oversee a $2.2 billion budget in fiscal year 2002, ensure that 50,000 Indian children receive adequate education in crumbling school buildings, and approve tribal-state gaming compacts.

The hearing begins at 9:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. No Internet audio feed is available.

If the committee approves McCaleb's nomination, it will be sent onto the full Senate for consideration. While the 1997 nomination of Kevin Gover, McCaleb's predecessor, drew fire from anti-Indian gaming interests, the Pawnee lawyer was approved unanimously for the post.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Gover's 'activist' legacy escapes McCaleb (6/13)

Relevant Links:
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs -
Neal McCaleb, Oklahoma Department of Transportation -
The Chickasaw Nation -

Indianz.Com Profile:
Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs: Neal McCaleb (4/18)
Biographical Sketch (4/18)

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McCaleb: Tribes have right to tax base (6/4)
Shift in Senate means changes for Indian Country (5/25)
In The Hoop: Bad choice of McCaleb? (4/20)
In The Hoop: Media's McCaleb Frenzy (4/19)
Tribal leaders have advice for McCaleb (4/18)
Reagan returns with new administration (4/18)
Okla. tribes remember McCaleb (4/18)
Fort Reno plan tabled (7/21)