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In The Hoop
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2002

Welcome to In The Hoop, Indianz.Com's occasional column about assorted Indian issues.

It's Not My Fault
In case you weren't there, or didn't listen to the five-hour ordeal on the Internet, Secretary of Interior Gale Norton gave Indian Country the big middle finger yesterday at her testimony before the House Resources Committee.

After telling tribal leaders last Friday that she was not "wedded" to any particular organization or model for trust reform, she said their alternatives to the Bureau of Indian Trust Asset Management (BITAM) sucked.

(Never mind the fact that all she's got for a "plan" is a chart with more holes in it than a sieve, whereas tribes have advanced significantly more substantive ideas.)

But while she may not have reached (yet) the arrogance of her predecessors, she is getting close. When questioned by lawmakers as to why a new agency has to be created, she suggested that tribes are the ones holding back meaningful change by clinging to the "dysfunctional" Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"We have two conflicting pieces of information," she opined. "One of those is that the BIA is broken. . . The other aspect of it is coming largely from the tribes, saying: 'Continue to have BIA do the same thing.'"

In The Hoop wonders why she didn't mention the message coming from tribes now: Stop doing the same thing, Norton.

It's Not My Fault, Part II
No one knows more than Indian Country and lawmakers that mismanagement of Indian trust assets dates back more than 100 years. But for some reason, Norton thought she had to point it out yet again, perhaps hoping to distract from the problems she's caused.

Holding up an oversized blowup of a Philadelphia newspaper (see Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb with copy) dated July 6, 1876, she read a front page headline: "Indian Trust Fund Losses, Funds Alleged To Have Been Abstracted from the Department of the Interior."

Then she pointed to another headline on the same page: "General Custer Killed."

Maybe she didn't see the irony.

It's Not My Fault, Part III
But the height of it came when Norton tried to deflect an attack by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who so graciously pointed out that a federal appeals court has found that her department breached its trust to the Navajo Nation.

Udall wanted to know if Norton considered it odd that Ross Swimmer and her deputy, J. Steven Griles, were involved in the scandal. But Norton was dumbfounded and wondered why anyone would care that the tribe was bilked out of at least $600 million by these (and other) former officials.

"What you are saying is that a person who was a government official in the past and has been sued should not be a government official in the future," she told Udall, "and I don't think that's the position you want to be advocating."

"I don't see anything that raises a conflict of interest," she continued.

The kicker though, was her defense of that former Cherokee Nation official whose earlier "reform" efforts had to be stopped by Congress.

"Ross Swimmer proposed some changes when he was Assistant Secretary that, had they been adopted, we would not be in the mess we are in today," she proclaimed.

A loud boo emerged from the crowd. Norton then threw her hands up in the air in a "Can you believe these savages?" manner.

"She's on Mars," National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall said during a break in testimony. "The Secretary is on another planet."

In Your Hoop
What planet to you think Gale Norton is on? Or should be sent to? Email In the Hoop and let us know.

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