Tribes oppose reorganization funding request
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Dissatisfied with the lack of information they have received from the Bush administration, a group of tribal leaders on Tuesday moved to halt a reorganization of Indian affairs within the Department of Interior.

The tribes aren't seeking to take the proposal off the table. During a two-day meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, they reiterated the need to continue talks with department officials.

But the tribal members of the trust reform task force were clearly not in complete agreement with changes slated for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Office of Special Trustee (OST). Seeking additional consultation, they will ask key members of Congress to stop a "reprogramming" of $5 million in federal funds needed to carry out the reorganization.

"I'm not not opposed to reorganization and I'm not opposed to change," said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe of Washington. "I just want to know what I end up with at the end of the day."

Up until yesterday, many task force members weren't fully aware of the department's request to shift money in the fiscal year 2003 budget. They were given copies, for the first time, of a December 4 letter to the Senate and House appropriations committees that outlined the reprogramming.

"At this point, there is strong feeling about us moving to oppose that," said Sue Masten, chairwoman of the Yurok Tribe of California.

Last year, tribes were successful in preventing the department's transfer of $300 million in funds for BITAM. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton eventually withdrew her proposal to create a separate agency to manage 54 million acres of land and billions in trust fund money.

Lacking details of the new proposal, the task force members said they could not embrace it either. "I think it's clear that there are some questions that need to be answered," said Chief Jim Gray of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma.

The December 4 letter was drafted by Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Lynn Scarlett. In it, she writes that the department will consider the request approved within 30 days unless there is objection from Congress.

Approval was clearly timed to coincide with a January 6, 2003, court-imposed deadline facing the department. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has ordered the Interior to submit plans on how it will fix the broken trust fund.

The tribes' opposition to the reprogramming puts a wrench in that effort. If Congress puts a stop to the money, the Bush administration can't make any claims of progress to Lamberth, who has already questioned the department's slowness to act.

Outgoing Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb responded to some of the tribal criticism and said the $5 million will be used to hire more people at the reservation level. "I'm having a hard time seeing how this reorganization is 'top-heavy,'" he said.

Although he had input into Scarlett's letter, he too said he was reading it for the first time. "I'm trying to go through it and see if there are any surprises," he confided to the tribes. "I don't see any."

Relevant Documents:
Scarlett Letter to Congress (December 4, 2002) | National Congress of American Indians Press Release (December 17, 2002)

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

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