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Unfit officials stick it to Indians again

Congratulations, Bushies. You've outdone yourself again. For two years in a row, you've managed to unveil a reorganization plan that not only fails to address more than a century of mismanagement, it also doesn't reflect the views of those most affected.

The way Neal McCaleb tells it, though, the effort was the result of months of consultation with Indian Country, meetings during which he was observed falling asleep more than once. That is, when he wasn't rousing everyone into inaction.

But nothing could be further from reality: last week's restructuring offers little in terms of accountability, standards and meaningful reform that tribal leaders and individual Indians have demanded for decades. Shuffling around boxes instead of addressing more than 20,000 outstanding probates, a $62 million backlog in land surveys and a $10 billion-plus historical accounting seems to be the order of the day.

Truth, however, is not a hallmark of Department of Interior officials, past or present. There must be something in the building at 1849 C Street in Washington, D.C. (asbestos, perhaps?) that turns ordinary citizens into extraordinary liars, capable of misleading the courts, Congress and Indians in one fell swoop.

McCaleb said the reorganization was just one part of a reform plan that will be submitted to a federal judge in a few short weeks. Court papers filed late Friday indicate otherwise -- government attorneys contend that merely being told to follow the 1994 American Indian Trust Reform Act is well, just plain old crazy.

It sounds like a new strategy but it isn't. For years, government officials have laid the blame elsewhere for their failure to reform.

It's the Indians' fault for not agreeing with us. It's Congress' fault for not providing us funding to carry out meaningless programs. It's Elouise Cobell's fault for asking us too many questions. Oh, and in a novel excuse, it's the Internet's fault.

But like Tex Hall, president of the largest inter-tribal organization said, what it's really been is one big waste of money. "We spent $600 million and where are we at?" he asked us recently. "If we don't work together we are going to spend another $600 million and not resolve the issue. That should be a wake up call."

Our only hope to escape this mess is that crazy federal judge who plans on telling the Department of Interior it should abide by the law and live up to its responsibilities to more than 300,000 American Indians and their ancestors whose funds have been used to pay off everyone else except the rightful owners. Expect the Bush administration to fight every step of the way.

Yet that's only part of the picture because tribal funds and assets are in poor shape too. Congress will have to act to correct these wrongs but given the failure of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to do something concrete about it, this route sadly doesn't look very promising.

All signs point to an historic increase for trust activities in the upcoming budget. But putting our taxpayer funds in the hands of the Griles-Cason-Swimmer cabal will only give us another Navajo Nation -- a debacle that, conveniently, none of them seem to remember.

And just where has Gale Norton been the past several months? For all the "commitment" she says her department has put into trust reform, she managed to attend more political fundraisers for Republican candidates in one month than consultation meetings with tribal leaders all year.

Unfit to be a trustee? You bet.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Norton attacks 'unfit' trustee ruling (12/9)

Relevant Documents:
New BIA-OST Organization | New BIA Organization | Old BIA Organization

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

Related Stories:
Trust records office shuffled again (12/6)
McCaleb being deposed today on e-mails (12/6)
Trust records office shuffled again (12/6)
McCaleb announces reorganization (12/5)
New proposal is BITAM plus more (12/5)
McCaleb to announce BIA reorganization (12/4)
Cobell trust claim not based on damages (12/3)
Trust budget prompts concerns (11/27)
McCaleb faces continued probe (11/26)
Opinion: U.S. hypocrisy on trust fund (11/26)
Interior's casualties of war (11/25)
Editorial: McCaleb 'had enough' (11/25)
Running BIA a tough job for the willing (11/25)
NNN: 'Attack' on McCaleb decried (11/25)
McCaleb resigning from BIA (11/22)
17 months at arm's length (11/22)
End of road for Neal McCaleb (11/22)
Opinion: IIM lawsuit is about dignity (11/22)
Norton fights contempt citation (11/20)
Tribal organization subpoenaed (11/20)
Lamberth upheld on contempt (11/20)
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Norton again blames Cobell (11/18)