Tribes seek funding commitment from Norton
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The Department of Interior is balking at increasing funding and support for a tribal task force on trust reform even as Secretary Gale Norton says she is committed to working with Indian Country.

A request to provide $1 million to $2 million in funds is meeting resistance, according to tribal leaders who are developing solutions to more than 100 years of mismanagement of the Indian trust system. Norton agreed to the formation of the panel and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb has pledged $500,000 for the effort.

But tribal leaders are now saying the Bush administration isn't fulfilling its promise. McCaleb has been pressed repeatedly to secure additional funding but has held off on saying he would approve more money.

"Pony up a few more bucks," said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington and a member of the task force. "It's a small price to pay in order to find a solution."

The issue will be pressed starting today as tribal leaders meet with department officials in Phoenix, Arizona. The task force is spending three days to push forward an alternative to the unanimously rejected Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM).

To do that, tribes will need their own technical advisers, said National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall, who heads up the task force. At least $1 million is required "to ensure that what we develop is best for Indian Country and not for the department," he said.

Hall accused the department of "foot dragging" by waiting so long to approve additional money. He questioned why officials have authorized a new $2.5 million contract with EDS Corporation -- in addition to the $3 million already spent on the firm -- but won't do the same for tribes.

"It is ironic that they can write a contract with EDS against the wishes of tribes," he said. "I don't think that's acceptable."

At the same time, Hall said there is dissent among tribal leaders on how the task force work will be carried out. As a result, he said department officials have held off on a concrete commitment.

"When they see division in Indian Country, they focus on that division rather than focus on the issue," he said. "The issue is, we want a tribally driven plan."

Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson Nedra Darling defended the lack of movement on behalf of McCaleb. She pointed out that the issue is on the agenda for the meeting and said there hasn't been a decision against providing more support.

"There is money there now for the task force," she said.

The meeting will be attended by several department officials. In addition to McCaleb, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason, Special Trustee Tom Slonaker and Office of Indian Trust Transition Director Ross Swimmer will be present.

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

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