> House leader rejects trust fund settlement rider
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House leader rejects trust fund settlement rider
MONDAY, JUNE 30, 2003
The head of the House panel with jurisdiction over Indian affairs is calling for the defeat of legislation that would allow the Bush administration to settle trust fund accounts with little consultation of tribes or individual beneficiaries.
In a statement released Friday, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) of the House Resources Committee entered what has become an increasingly political debate. Reacting to the complaints of tribal leaders, members of both parties have noted the effects of litigation and trust reform on Indian programs.
"This situation is having an increasingly negative impact on the availability of resources for critical needs such as roads, schools, and health care facilities in Indian Country," Pombo said.
But while arguing that a settlement program created by Department of Interior's new spending bill was "well-intentioned," he said it was an "unacceptable" solution to a long-running problem.
"The mismanagement of the trusts for the last 100 years is absolutely unacceptable," Pombo stated. "In resolving the current situation, we also need to fix the systemic problems that caused it so this never happens again."
In announcing a hearing July 9 on the matter, Pombo set the stage for a turf war over the proposed settlement program. Normally, major legislation affecting Indian issues would pass through Pombo's hands but the House Appropriations Committee, for two years in a row, bypassed the process with little public debate.
Last year, the Appropriations committee approved a bill that would have limited an accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust from 1985 to the present, instead of reaching back to 1887, when the system was created. After intense debate, the rider was defeated by a bipartisan vote of 281 to 144 on the House floor.
With the backing of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the new rider appears headed to a similar demise. NCAI, which represents more than 250 tribes, passed a resolution against the settlement program at its mid-year session two weeks ago.
"There has been no discussion or consultation," NCAI president Tex Hall said in an interview. "This should have been ongoing. The table needs to include tribes and individuals."
Under the proposed settlement, there is little room for the Interior to include Indian input. It gives Secretary Gale Norton five years to settle all historical accounting claims by making cash payouts to willing beneficiaries and to resolve the rest through a statistical sampling.
Norton would be given unilateral authority to develop regulations for the settlement. The short time-frame would almost certainly mean little consultation with affected account holders.
The alternative is to spend approximately $335 million, also over five years, to perform an historical accounting of the IIM trust through a transaction-by-transacation analysis and statistical sampling. Even then, there is no guarantee that the results will be complete or accurate, department officials have acknowledged.
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust
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