Slonaker doesn't want to fire advisers
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FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2002

Special Trustee Tom Slonaker yesterday broke with the Department of Interior's silence on a controversial spending bill recently approved by the House.

Slonaker, who was appointed to his post by former President Bill Clinton, said he opposed a provision which requires him to fire his advisory board and find replacements. The panel consists of several high-profile Indian Country leaders and other trust experts.

"I have not found them unsatisfactory at all," he told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at a hearing. "Quite to the contrary, it is a good sounding board for me."

Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason refused to say whether the department supported the provision or even asked for it. He said the House Interior Appropriations subcommittee inserted the language.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is not an initiative of the department," he told the committee.

Cason also denied the department's involvement in other language in the department's $19.7 billion spending bill. One provision requires the Interior to release information in a report that contains private financial data about Indian beneficiaries and another limits fees to two court officials who have investigated trust fund mismanagement.

But he did express the department's support for a provision which funds private attorneys with taxpayer dollars. As many as 50 government employees have hired their own personal counsel, some of whom work for the highest-priced Washington, D.C., law firms.

The House bill, which was approved last week, drew considerable controversy in Indian Country. Tribes and Indian advocates lobbied successfully to defeat provisions to limit an historical accounting of the Indian trust and create a commission on Indian gaming.

The White House, in a statement on the bill, did not object to the trust fund provisions and said they wouldn't interfere with the ongoing Cobell v. Norton litigation. Concerns were raised on the gaming study but no strong objection was made.

While debate was occurring on the House floor, members of the House subcommittee pointed out the Bush administration's support.

The Senate version of the bill doesn't contain the provisions. A joint House-Senate conference committee will meet to resolve the differences.

Indian members of Slonaker's advisory board include: Elouise Cobell, lead plaintiff in the Cobell lawsuit and former treasurer of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana; Sue Masten, chairwoman of the Yurok Tribe of California and former National Congress of American Indians president; Gregg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota; Ivan Makil, president of the Salt River Pima (*) Tribe of Arizona; and Ed Thomas, president of the Tlingit-Haida Tribe of Alaska.

All five have been vocal opponents of the department's trust reform efforts. Last December, in response to Secretary Gale Norton's now-scrapped proposal to create a new Indian trust agency, the advisory board said trust duties should be handled outside the Interior.

* Ed. Note: Ivan Makil is president of the Salt River Pima Tribe, not the Gila River Tribe as was incorrectly stated.

Relevant Bills:
H.R.5093 | S.2708

Relevant Documents:
White House Statement of Administration Policy (7/16) | Rahall Letter (7/15) | Hayworth-Kildee Letter (7/12) | 8th Court Monitor Report (7/11) | House Committee Report (7/9) | Senate Committee Report (6/27)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust, Department of Interior -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -
Trust Reform, NCAI -

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