FROM THE ARCHIVE

McCaleb reflects on tenure and shares vision

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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2002

Inquiring tribal leaders wanted to know. What's on Neal McCaleb's mind?

During a candid discussion yesterday afternoon in Washington, D.C., they found out. Most questions asked of the outgoing assistant secretary were answered as McCaleb touched on several issues he tried to tackle, some unsuccessfully, during his 17-month tenure as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Chief among those, of course, was the trust fund lawsuit. He likened the bitter fight to "being drug over a cactus patch with your britches off."

But he referred back to earlier statements he made about a case that has raised awareness to a century of mistreatment. "As brutal as the Cobell lawsuit has been to me personally, and I don't mean to whine," he said, "it has realized the level of public attention to the inequities and the failures of the system."

McCaleb also took on a hot topic that attendees of the meeting discussed during the breaks: a controversial TIME magazine report on Indian gaming. He said the articles were "very damaging" and warned that it could lead to a backlash unless tribal leaders take the initiative to tell their side of the story.

"We are not people that go around with a trumpet and blow our own horn," he said. "But we need to change in this respect or we may not have a horn to blow."

He tied tribal casinos to his support for creating economic opportunity but said he didn't always feel that way. "I was not originally a great advocate of Indian gaming," he told the tribal leaders. "But I've seen the good -- that translates to the money that has been reinvested in Indian Country -- that has come from it."

McCaleb's economic development initiatives never got off the ground during his stay at the BIA. Still, he urged tribes to carry the mantle to the White House, where he said the economy will remain a big focus.

"Indian Country should be a key part of that," he said.

Economic success is directly linked to education, McCaleb said. He pointed to the BIA's Family and Child Education (FACE) program, which seeks to increase the involvement of parents in early childhood learning.

"Of the things that I see at the BIA that is changing lives, I think the FACE program is one of those things," he observed.

McCaleb tried not to criticize the administration for decisions tribes didn't agree with, or even those he may have opposed. "I've got to be careful," he said. "I'm still a member of the team."

He repeated an earlier promise, though, about what he calls his life-long commitment to "Indian service." "I'm not gonna go away and find me a rocking chair on the front porch," he said. "I may not lay with the big dogs but I'm not going to lay on the porch either."

"You'll see me again," he concluded. "I don't know just how yet. . . I will remain at your orders."

Only on Indianz.Com:
McCaleb named to Indian Affairs post (April 18, 2001)
Reagan returns with new administration (April 18, 2001)
Tribal leaders have advice for McCaleb (April 18, 2001)
Biographical Sketch (April 18, 2001)
McCaleb pushes role as evangelist (July 19, 2001)
At BIA, McCaleb takes on the system (July 20, 2001)
Neal McCaleb in Review (July 23, 2001)

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