Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

Scrambled Eggs: How the Trump team is mixing up the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Still wondering about the Trump administration's reorganization of the Department of the Interior?

Well attorney Larry Roberts, who ran the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the final years of the Obama presidency, explains how tribes across the nation will be affected by plans being offered by Secretary Ryan Zinke:
Currently, Interior’s bureau regional offices, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), are generally configured to align with State boundaries. Current BIA Regions The Secretary’s 13 new regions would be led by a single regional director, with authority over all bureaus within the region, for a term of two years before the leadership position rotates to another bureau in the region. Hypothetically, the Fish and Wildlife Service could lead the Great Plains Region for two years, followed by two years of BLM leading the region, followed by two years of the Bureau of Reclamation leading the Region, followed by two years of BIA leading the region. This means that Tribes could be faced with having to educate a new regional director every two years.

If the current twelve BIA regions are eggs, Secretary Zinke’s proposal scrambles them. (Only the Alaska Region remains unchanged.) The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) Tribes, which includes one Tribe outside of the current BIA Eastern Region, would see its Tribes divided across four regions. For example, Tribes surrounded by New York, Michigan, Indiana and parts of Wisconsin would be one region, whereas Tribes in Louisiana, and other parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa would be in another.

The Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes (MAST), which consists of Tribes located within the current BIA Midwest Region, would be divided across three regions. Neighboring Tribes in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa would find themselves in different regions. Similarly, neighboring Tribes in the current BIA Pacific Region (California) would be cut in half with Northern California Tribes being served by the same region as Tribes in Oregon and Washington.

Secretary Zinke proposes to eliminate entirely both the BIA Navajo Region and the Eastern Oklahoma Region. The Navajo Nation would join a region that stretches from Wyoming to the international boarder in Arizona and would include the western half of New Mexico and parts of Nevada. The Eastern Oklahoma Region would be dissolved and those Tribes would be included in a Region that includes all of Oklahoma, Eastern New Mexico and Texas.

The changes are perhaps broadest in terms of expanded geography in the BIA Great Plains region. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) would see the Region expand to serve Tribes in parts of Montana, Minnesota, Kansas and Wyoming. With the exception of the Blackfeet Nation, Tribes within the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leadership Council would find themselves incorporated into this new region. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) would find a similar scrambling of their member Tribes, again dividing Tribes in Oregon and Washington into different regions.

Read More on the Story:
Lawrence S. Roberts: Organizing Indian Affairs for the Next 100 Years (Lexology May 22, 2018)

Office of Inspector General Report:
Reassignment of Senior Executives at the U.S. Department of the Interior (April 11, 2018)

Related Stories:
Tribes lose out in funding bill that includes money for Trump reorganization (May 17, 2018)
Bureau of Indian Affairs in disarray with another mysterious departure (April 27, 2018)
Tribal homelands hit a wall under President Trump after historic Obama era (April 25, 2018)
Tribes kept in the dark as Trump administration rolls on with reorganization (April 19, 2018)