Norton to attend first consultation session
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Secretary of Interior Gale Norton will personally attend a consultation session on a proposed reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, her second-in-command told tribal leaders on Wednesday.

Norton will discuss stripping the BIA of its trust responsibilities and handing them over to a new agency on December 13 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles. The meeting is not only the first regarding the controversial plan but it will serve as Norton's first ever face-to-face consultation with tribal leaders.

But due to a contempt trial that will start next Monday in Washington, D.C., the session may have to be rescheduled, tribal leaders were also told. Although attorneys for the individual Indian plaintiffs expect a quick trial and say Norton may not personally be called to the stand, the proceedings may shift her schedule a bit.

"She definitely will be there unless the court trial goes beyond next week," said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a participant in talks with Griles and other Bush officials. "I think we will get a meeting on the 13th or thereabouts."

With only one consultation session scheduled but the department promising six more, Allen noted that there are serious concerns due to the holiday season. But he said he and other tribes are committed to providing solutions to the adequate management of their trust assets.

"Our challenge is to shift away from the complaining position and move into the solution mode," he said. "If consultation means we continue to complain about what they are doing, we are not going to make any progress. People need to agree on what works and how the system can be modified to be credible."

Still, Allen said tribes are viewing the department's statements and actions with caution. "We remain suspicious of them but we need to move forward," he said.

At the annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Spokane, Washington, Griles told tribal leaders the administration has identified six sites nationwide for consultation sessions but hadn't finalized the sessions. However, when asked about a Federal Register notice he authored cutting off written comments on January 15, he did not provide a direct answer on whether he would extend the period.

That poses a problem, said Allen. "There is absolutely no way to conduct consultation at six more sites sites before that time," he said.

Immediately after Norton announced her scheme to create the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management two weeks ago today, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) called on her to attend a meeting personally.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton ordered to trial for 'fraud' (11/29)
Tribal leaders reject BIA overhaul (11/29)
Indian Country deserves answers (11/29)

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

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