Opposition to BIA overhaul mounting
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With tribal leaders voicing heightened criticism about the Bush administration's proposal to strip the Bureau of Indian Affairs of its trust responsibilities, the nation's largest tribal organization is expected to pass a resolution against the controversial overhaul.

Representing more than 200 tribes, opposition from the National Congress of Americans (NCAI) is a significant obstacle. Already, more than two dozen tribes, including a group holding more than 60 percent of the tribal land base, have gone on the record against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's plan.

With Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb speaking at NCAI's convention yesterday, tribal dissidence was widespread and evident. During a question and answer session, tribal leaders blasted the idea of an entirely new agency to handle their land and trust assets.

Greg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, said the solution amounts to "gutting" the BIA. Creating the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management is like "taking a bowl full of rotten apples, creating a brand new bowl, and then filling the bowl with the same old rotten apples," he said.

In response, McCaleb promised to take input from tribes and said consultation is starting immediately. However, the Interior has already acknowledged the NCAI session is not a formal effort to seek input despite McCaleb's public statements to the contrary.

Additionally, the Interior has only scheduled one consultation meeting although Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles has promised to hold more. But as of early this morning, no sessions had been cleared.

Coupled with Norton's desire to seal written comments by January 15, 2002, tribal leaders are fearing the same type of "sham" consultation that has affected prior trust discussions.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has not heard back on his request for Norton to attend a consultation meeting personally, said an aide. But he would do whatever he could to ensure tribal input was extended beyond January, said spokesperson Jude McCartin.

"Obviously, Sen. Bingaman is going to make sure there is adequate time for tribes and pueblos to comment," said McCartin yesterday. She added that Norton's plan is "still a little bit unclear" and that "we still don't what the public meeting schedule is."

Griles is speaking today to NCAI delegates about the plan. Support of the anti-reorganization resolution is "strong," said a conference attendee.

Tex Hall, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation of North Dakota previously told Indianz.Com he was seeking full rejection of the plan by NCAI. He is seeking to run the organization.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton sees GOP support on overhaul (11/28)
Tribal leaders challenging Norton (11/28)
Norton wants to cut Interior jobs (11/28)

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

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