BIA nominee wins endorsement of Senate panel
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee Dave Anderson sailed through his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, securing unanimous approval from a Senate panel impressed with his qualifications, commitment and outlook.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted 13-0 in favor of Anderson's confirmation to head an agency responsible for more than 550 tribes and more than 1 million Native Americans. Members of both parties supported his nomination which now heads to the Senate floor for final action.

The swift movement pleased Anderson, 50, a resident of Minnesota and a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe Indians from Wisconsin. Surrounded by friends and family, including his elderly parents, he said he was "very grateful" for the opportunity to share his views on improving the well-being of Indian Country.

"I feel very honored that the Senate committee would look at my qualifications and was very honored that they would move this quickly," he said in a short interview following the one-hour hearing.

In the interview, Anderson said he had some personal business to tie up before taking the reins of the BIA. That includes stepping down as chairman of the board of directors of Famous Dave's Barbeque, a national chain of restaurants he founded in 1994. He will still retain majority ownership in the company, which reported $90.8 million in revenues last year.

During the hearing, Anderson told the committee he would divest his shares of Park Place Entertainment, the largest gaming company in the world. Park Place has projects pending before the BIA, including a $500 million off-reservation casino in the Catskills region of New York.

Anderson also said he would recuse himself from matters dealing with former partners, including businessman Lyle Berman, owner of Lakes Entertainment, a casino management company. Lakes has decisions pending before the BIA, including the federal recognition of the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts.

Anderson and Berman were partners in Grand Casinos Inc., a casino management company they formed with attorney Stan Taube. The firm managed several tribal casinos before it was broken up and sold. Some of the business went to Park Place while other clients went to Lakes.

A political nominee's professional ties can often prove controversial. Former assistant secretary Kevin Gover, who ran the BIA for the last three years of the Clinton administration, came under fire for his work as an attorney for tribes with casinos or seeking them. During his tenure, and even after it, he was accused of making decisions to benefit gaming interests.

But there was little concern yesterday over Anderson's participation in what has become a $14 billion industry. The issue came up only briefly at the hearing in response to two questions by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the chairman of the Indian committee.

"Gaming is only an opportunity that should be used as a stepping stone," he said. "We need to use it as a beginning, as a developing point."

Gaming has brought tremendous benefits to Native people, Anderson told the committee. One of the tribes he worked for, the Mille Lacs Ojibwe of Minnesota, suffered in abject poverty before opening a casino, he said.

"But today they have flourished," he noted. "They have wonderful school systems. They have built hospitals and clinics. They built a wonderful infrastructure and really have become a very meaningful part of the community."

Anderson shied away from other critical issues, preferring to speak only in generalities about the trust fund, the federal budget and sovereignty. Instead, he placed an emphasis on his personal struggles, which includes poor academic performance, bankruptcies and substance abuse, and said his life story can help others.

"I believe that if I can serve as a role model to Indian County," he said, "I really believe we can approach those things that are against us with a positive attitude, and we can overcome those things."

Anderson was introduced to the committee as a "real American hero" by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who has received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Anderson and his wife Kathryn. "I can assure you there is no better man for the job," Coleman said.

At the start of the hearing, the committee was shown video clips of Anderson's 2002 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. As part of her Angel Network, Winfrey surprised Anderson with a $25,000 grant to LifeSkills Center for Leadership, a non-profit organization he founded to help Native youth.

Audrey Bennett, president of the Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota, and Louis Taylor, chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior, testified in support of Anderson. "Whenever you call on him," Taylor said, "he always comes back."

Anderson was accompanied to the hearing by his father, James, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and his father, Iris, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe. Anderson's wife, their son and his wife, and his sister's family also attended. Al Trepania, chairman of the Great Lakes Intertribal Council, accompanied Taylor.

The senators who attended parts or all of the hearing were Campbell, vice-chair Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

All members of the committee except Murkowski and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) registered a vote on Anderson's confirmation. The 13 members who voted did so either in person or by proxy.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Anderson would be the ninth assistant secretary for Indian affairs.

Relevant Documents:
Witness List, Testimony (October 22, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Famous Daves -
LifeSkills Center for Leadership -

Related Stories:
Anderson firm took 40 percent of casino profits (10/22)
Anderson's marching orders: Avoid controversy (10/22)
Hearing on BIA pick Anderson moved to new room (10/21)
Editorial: 'Cloud' hanging over Famous Dave (10/17)
Ex-Anderson partner has projects before BIA (10/13)
BIA nominee Anderson not so famous beyond BBQ (09/26)
Martin not upset she was passed over for BIA post (09/25)
White House acts to fill top BIA leadership post (09/15)
Biography: BIA nominee 'Famous' Dave Anderson (09/15)
Lack of BIA nominee puzzles Indian Country (08/07)

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