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BIA nominee's tribal background prompts recusal

Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee Carl J. Artman said on Thursday he has recused himself from some significant sovereignty, land claim and land-into-trust matters.

Artman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, won't be making decisions affecting his tribe, whose land-into-trust applications are pending before the BIA. The tribal-specific recusal is standard practice for political nominees at the Interior Department.

But Artman, who currently serves as the solicitor in charge of Indian affairs, is extending his recusal to cover matters affecting the tribes of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy. That means he won't be involved in several high-profile disputes in New York, the ancestral home of the Oneida and the other Iroquois tribes.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Artman told Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming) that his recusal was based on his tribe's attempt to reassert sovereignty in New York. The Oneidas of Wisconsin are part of the Oneida land claim and have proposed an off-reservation casino in their homeland.

"Will you recuse yourself on this?" asked Thomas, who also wanted to know Artman's views on off-reservation gaming. That query was the only serious one posed during the proceeding, which lasted less than 30 minutes before the committee approved Artman's nomination.

After the hearing, Artman told Indianz.Com that he has removed himself from pending land-into-trust applications of the Oneida Nation of New York, the Cayuga Nation of New York and the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma. In what has become a hot political issue, the tribes are seeking to reclaim thousands of acres of ancestral properties.

Just yesterday, officials from New York met with Interior associate deputy secretary Jim Cason to express their opposition to the land-into-trust applications.

In the interview, Artman also said he won't be deciding on any of the Catskills casino proposals because they affect his tribe's potential interests. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe's off-reservation gaming facility, for example, could be kicked up to Cason or possibly Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

The recusal policy presumably extends to any New York gaming compacts and other New York-specific issues that might come before Artman as head of the BIA. But he characterized his decision as limited in scope, compared to his predecessor, Dave Anderson, who took himself out of a large number of issues during his tenure.

"I do not see the need to have that kind of broad recusal," Artman told Indianz.Com. During the hearing, he called his recusal "very narrow."

In addition to confirming his policy, Artman said he probably won't be bringing in his own team of advisers because the Bush administration ends in less than two years. He said he would keep Michael Olsen, a non-Indian attorney, as the second-in-command at the BIA.

Artman expressed confidence in another recent BIA hire, Tom Dowd, who runs the newly-annointed Bureau of Indian Education. Dowd, a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, has proven to be an "excellent resource," Artman said.

Artman did indicate that he will be able to pick some top-level BIA positions. He didn't know any specifics, however, but said he would work to fill those positions if he is confirmed.

Appearing in support of Artman yesterday was Kathy Hughes, the vice chairwoman of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She touted his experience in sovereignty, land-into-trust and land claim matters when he served as chief counsel to the tribe prior to joining Interior.

"It is important for tribes to have a Native in this position," she told the committee.

Artman was accompanied to the hearing by his mother, wife and one of his two young sons. Other members of the Oneida Nation also attended.

The BIA has been without a confirmed nominee since February 2005, when Anderson resigned. Cason, a non-Indian, has been carrying out the agency's duties since then.

Senate Confirmation Hearing:
Webcast | Carl Artman Testimony

White House News:
Personnel Announcement (August 1, 2006)