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Tired of Norton's Indian trust lies
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2002

It's bad enough that Gale Norton and Neal McCaleb have been held in contempt for misleading a federal court about efforts to reform the broken Indian trust. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was right to reprimand the Department of Interior officials as "unfit" trustees for money owed to more than 500,000 American Indians.

But what's really appalling is the Bush administration's insistence on denying the obvious. Although she has yet to bring herself into compliance with her trust obligations, Norton said this week it was "appropriate" to appeal Judge Lamberth's ruling -- without having read it.

Such ignorance is hardly surprising, given her disdain for honesty. Backed by Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles, who all but lied in a court declaration, and political hacks at the Department of Justice, this administration has sought to prevent individual Indians from learning the truth about their own funds.

Norton and her minions repeatedly insist they can't be blamed for the rampant mismanagement that has gone uncorrected since the day they stepped foot in Washington, D.C. "The decision reflects in large part and devotes its findings to actions that took place . . . before either Neal McCaleb or I took office," was her defense when grilled by reporters.

Yet the lies, fraud and deception continue. Under Norton's watch, the Interior submitted false and inaccurate reports about a $40 million accounting system that is a complete failure.

"The second report filed during Secretary Norton's tenure with the department contained just as much misleading (if not outright false) information as the previous quarterly status reports filed with this court," he wrote.

Norton's department failed to correct numerous computer security holes that left billions of dollars in Indian funds open to Internet hackers. During the contempt trial, however, Norton said she didn't learn about the vulnerabilities until she read the newspaper.

Norton also admitted she agreed to a limited sampling of Indian trust accounts -- in direct defiance of a court order -- without doing any research into the issue. "I basically signed it and said get busy," she said during the trial.

This incompetence is unacceptable. A trustee who blames others, remains ignorant of problems and makes rush decisions should be replaced by someone else.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff in the Individual Indian Money (IIM) lawsuit, recognized long ago that the government is incapable, unwilling and unable of living up to its duties. She's asked for a receiver to take control of the IIM trust, the only reasonable solution to this debacle.

The rest of Indian Country is waking up too. After eight months and hundreds of hours of meetings, tribal leaders unanimously voted to halt talks with administration officials who won't agree to needed reforms.

The only question is when Norton, Griles and McCaleb will stop denying the truth.

"A third of our people live in poverty, half of our people are unemployed, we have Third World health conditions, we have not shared the America dream with the greatest, most powerful country in the world," said IIM account holder and tribal leader Tex Hall, "and all we can do is appeal?"

"When is the federal government going to realize that there is a case of mismanagement and they have mismanaged it?"

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com

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