Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, fourth from left, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary John Tahsuda, far right, at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota, on May 22, 2018. "I am grateful for the warm hospitality. Incredible drummers honored me with my name song," Zinke wrote in a post on Twitter. Photo: Secretary Zinke

Trump administration finally informs tribes about dramatic reorganization

After months of complaints in Indian Country and on Capitol Hill, the Trump administration is finally going to consult tribes about a controversial reorganization at the Department of the Interior.

And just like the last major bomb, tribes have a short time to prepare for the first meeting, which often sets the tone for future gatherings. A "listening session" has been scheduled on a Sunday afternoon in less than two weeks, the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced.

"This is an opportunity to shape the department for the next 100 years, to provide long-term, meaningful benefit for all, including tribes and Indian Affairs," John Tahsuda, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, wrote in a Dear Tribal Leader Letter.

The first session takes place on June 3 in Kansas City, Missouri, where the National Congress of American Indians is holding its mid-year conference. It is to be followed by eight tribal consultations in nearly every region of Indian Country, except the Navajo Nation and the Great Plains.

Yet those two regions are among the most affected by the proposed reorganization, which Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced more than a year ago. Draft maps posted by the department show how the BIA's existing 12 regions would be undergoing dramatic change.

"If the current twelve BIA regions are eggs, Secretary Zinke’s proposal scrambles them," attorney Larry Roberts, who ran the BIA for the final years of the Obama presidency, wrote in a popular article this week.

The BIA's Navajo region -- the only one encompassing an entire reservation -- would be split into two regions, or maybe even three, as part of Zinke's attempt to create a "unified" national system. Navajo leaders are among the many who have complained about being kept in the dark about changes affecting their community.

"We are moving backwards, and we oppose that," President Russell Begaye told key members of Congress earlier this month as he said his tribe had yet to be consulted about the organization.

The Great Plains region is currently run out of an office in South Dakota, far from the reservations it serves. Yet it would get even larger under Zinke's plan, with some tribes from Kansas, Minnesota and Wyoming potentially shifted there.

"We Indian people, we're excluded from everything," said Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, "and we were here first."

The BIA already struggles to live up to its trust responsibilities due to inadequate funding and other problems, Frazier asserted, noting that the tribes of the Sioux Nation recently observed the 125th anniversary of the Treaty of Fort Laramie.

"Back home, many of our people say: 'Honor our treaty, or give us our land back,'" said Frazier, who also serves as chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, which represents 16 tribes in a region that includes Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Despite the potential upheaval, Secretary Zinke has said the national system might not be imposed on the BIA. The results of the consultation will determine how the Trump administration moves forward, he told member of Congress last month who asked when that effort would begin.

"The nations, they're sovereign," Zinke said on April 11. "We are beginning consultation, and whether or not they adopt this model is really up to them."

"I've always said that I believe the nations are sovereign and it's a partnership, it's a relationship," Zinke said, though he quickly added: "I think it's to their advantage to join."

Scrambled eggs? A "DRAFT" map of the 13 proposed regions at the Department of the Interior would mean dramatic changes for the 12 existing Bureau of Indian Affairs regions.

Reorganization road trip

As part of its outreach to Indian Country, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is holding one listening session and eight consultations on the reorganization. The first meeting takes place in Missouri on June 3 and the last one is in Mississippi on August 9.

Noticeably absent from the current schedule is the Navajo region, though the June 25 meeting in New Mexico will draw leaders from the Navajo Nation. Also missing are consultations in Arizona, home to the BIA's Western region, and in the Great Plains.

The August 9 meeting in Mississippi is meant to draw leaders from tribes in the BIA's Eastern region, a large area that runs from Maine to Florida and includes the southern states. Seven newly-recognized tribes in Virginia also fall within the region.

Written comments can also be submitted through August 15.

Sunday, June 3, 2018
1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Kansas City, Missouri
NCAI Mid-Year Conference
Marriott Kansas City Downtown
200 W. 12th Street
Kansas City, MO 64105

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
New Buffalo, Michigan
Four Winds-New Buffalo Casino
11111 Wilson Road
New Buffalo, MI 49117

Thursday, June 21, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Billings, Montana
BIA Rocky Mountain Regional Office
2021 4th Avenue
North Billings, MT 59101

Monday, June 25, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
National Indian Programs Training Center
1011 Indian School Road, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104

Thursday, June 28, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort
12222 New York Ranch Road
Jackson, CA 95642

Tuesday, July 24, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Morongo Band of Mission Indians Tribal Chambers
11581 Potrero Road
Banning, CA 92220

Thursday, August 2, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Juneau, Alaska
Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall
320 W. Willoughby Avenue
Juneau, AK 99801

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Embassy Suites Oklahoma City
1815 South Meridian
Oklahoma City, OK 73108

Thursday, August 9, 2018
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Philadelphia, Mississippi
Pearl River Resort, Golden Moon Hotel & Casino
Hwy 16 W
Philadelphia, MS 39350

Some direction from Congress

Key lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of tribal consultation on the reorganization.

"It's a common theme here, that there's not consulting with the tribes," Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California), the chairman of the House subcommittee that writes the funding bill for the BIA and Interior, said earlier this month as his panel heard from dozens of tribal leaders.

"I'll bring it up to him and say that he needs to do that," Calvert said of Secretary Zinke.

But just in case a verbal reminder doesn't work, Calvert's subcommittee came up with something more permanent -- language in a report accompanying Interior's funding bill that addresses the reorganization. It follows:
State and Tribal Consultation.—The Committee recognizes concerns raised by State and Tribal leaders about the Department’s insufficient level of consultation regarding the Department’s proposed reorganization. The Committee urges the Department to redouble its efforts to consult with State and Tribal leaders, including entering into formal Tribal consultation, and to adjust its reorganization proposal as necessary to meet the Department’s needs while avoiding undue additional burdens on States and Tribes.

The appropriations bill otherwise allows the Trump administration to spend nearly $18 million on the reorganization in fiscal year 2019, which begins on October 1. Of that amount, $500,000 would come from the BIA budget.

In his own words

Secretary Zinke was asked about the reorganization at a hearing on Capitol Hill on April 11. His exchange with Rep. Cavert, in which he said the regional model might not be imposed on Indian Country, is worth a listen on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

Related Stories:
Scrambled Eggs: How the Trump team is mixing up the Bureau of Indian Affairs (May 22, 2018)
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)