Top Democrat calls for hearings on BIA proposa
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Saying the Bush administration has kept Indian Country "in the dark", the top Democrat on the House Resources Committee today called for immediate hearings on the proposal to strip the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its trust responsibilities.

"I am deeply distressed to learn that the Department of the Interior is moving to establish a new agency responsible for Indian trust funds without consulting with Indian Tribes or the Congressional authorizing committees of jurisdiction," said Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).

The ranking Democrat on the House legislative panel with purview over Indian affairs, Rahall today wrote a letter to Resources Committee Chairman Jim Hansen (R-Utah) to request a "comprehensive oversight hearing."

"Despite the decades long involvement in reforming the Indian trust fund management problems, to my knowledge, this Committee has yet to be officially notified or consulted with on this drastic change," he wrote.

"It is my further understanding that the affected Indian tribes and Indian account holders have also been kept in the dark about the formation of this new agency," wrote Rahall, adding that the Interior has sent out "conflicting comments" about the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BIATM).

Specifically, Rahall said Norton, in a memo sent to a federal judge, indicated she will consult with Congress and tribes prior to implementation of the plan. However, he said her staff has already asked the White House for more money to set up the BIATM "in the next few weeks."

"While there may be merit to this latest proposal, we simply don't know any details," he concluded in the letter. "A hearing is an appropriate forum to get the answers to numerous questions which exist among Members and throughout Indian Country."

A Hansen spokesperson acknowledged the receipt of the hearing request but said the committee would not comment until one is scheduled, if at all. Hansen would also not confirm whether or not the committee has been consulted, said the aide.

Tribal leaders yesterday said they would look to Rahall's committee to hold hearings. Rahall has often taken a lead on Indian issues, including the recent introduction of an energy development bill for Indian Country.

He also criticized the Bush administration for allowing drilling to take place on a site in Montana sacred to dozens of tribes.

Read the Letter:
Rahall calls for hearings (11/16)

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton stripping BIA of trust duties (11/16)
Tribal leaders in uproar over proposal (11/16)
Bush officials to speak at NCAI (11/16)
Q&A on BIA Reorganization (11/16)

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

Related Stories:
BIA plan called 'desperate' (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)
Trust fund security document filed (11/14)
Interior mum on trust fund report (11/13)
Norton hires own defense lawyer (11/9)
Norton told to appoint trust fund receiver (11/7)
Griles taking lead on trust reform (11/5)
Norton's defense off to a 'bad start' (11/2)
Judge ready to hold Norton in contempt (10/31)
Interior promises trust fund defense (10/31)
Judge: Norton's actions 'contemptuous' (10/30)
Trust fund defense team scrapped (10/30)
Action on Norton urged 'on all fronts' (10/29)
Norton views broken trust fund system (10/29)