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Senate panel promises strong backing for BIA nominee

The Democratic chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee said on Thursday he will work hard to secure the confirmation of Republican Carl J. Artman as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) said it was "shameful" that the BIA has gone without a leader for two years. He called on the Bush administration to do all it can to support Artman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin.

"If we need to get some help from the president, we need to do that," Dorgan said at Artman's confirmation hearing, his second since being announced for the position.

Citing pressing health care, education, housing and other needs in Indian Country, Dorgan quickly moved the nomination to the Senate floor by a unanimous voice vote of the committee. Artman had received the same speedy consideration after his first hearing last September.

But an unknown Republican senator held up the process by placing an anonymous hold on Artman. Dorgan said he didn't know why one of his colleagues -- and someone of President Bush's own party -- would object to the nomination.

Gerald Danforth, the chairman of the Oneida Nation, wasn't sure either. When asked whether he knew of any reasons to hold up Artman, he replied, "None whatsoever."

Jackie Johnson, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, shed some light on the mystery. Last fall, she said she spoke personally with several Republicans who might have been responsible for the hold.

"There was concern about the nomination, [with] the Oneida Nation [and] his positions he held with gaming," Johnson said.

Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming), the vice chairman of the committee, reflected some of those concerns with two lines of questioning. As he did last September, he asked whether Artman recused himself on matters affecting the Oneida Nation and the tribe's off-reservation gaming proposal in New York.

Artman again confirmed that he hasn't been involved in any of the Iroquois land claims discussions. He also said he won't make decisions on land-into-trust applications that would affect his tribe's interests in New York.

After talking about economic development, Thomas then asked how "strict" the Interior Department should be in evaluating land-into-trust applications for casinos. "As you know, many senators are concerned about off-reservation gaming," he told Artman.

Artman noted that the BIA is finalizing rules that would govern how land is taken into trust for gaming purposes by requiring more local and state input. He said George Skibine, the director of the agency's Office of Indian Gaming Management, expects to publish the regulation this spring.

And in a new development, Artman said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is drafting a letter to all the tribes with pending gaming acquisitions. He said the department wants to establish "guidelines" to address some of the controversial issues raised by placing casinos in land that is currently not part of an existing reservation.

The letter, along with the regulatory efforts, will result in "significant" changes to the land-into-trust process, Artman said. "Hopefully, these changes will be able to give everybody a clear idea of what will be acceptable for off-reservation gaming," he told the committee.

Whether the developments will resolve any lingering objections isn't clear. But Dorgan said he will work with Thomas, as well as Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), to push the nomination through the Senate. "After two years, at long long last, this position should be filled," he said.

Hearing Webcast/Testimony:
CONFIRMATION HEARING on the President's nomination of Mr. Carl Joseph Artman, to be Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior (February 1, 2007

September 2006 Senate Confirmation Hearing:
Webcast | Carl Artman Testimony

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

Relevant Links:
Oneida Nation -
Senate Indian Affairs Committee -