Swimmer slow to recall Reagan era 'fallout'
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Tribal leaders who have objected to the Bush administration's revival of Ross Swimmer have cited his late 1980s tenure as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as the major reason for their displeasure.

But the former assistant secretary and former chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has trouble remembering all the opposition he encountered. According to a recent court deposition, he said he couldn't "recall" what happened when he proposed to transfer billions of dollars belonging to hundreds of tribes to a private bank, a move that was halted by concerned lawmakers.

"I don't remember having a major fallout over the issue," he testified on November 20, 2002.

Swimmer's memory was jogged when presented with testimony he gave to the Senate a decade after he left the Reagan administration. In it, he recalled that his privatization effort faced "intense resistance" from Congress.

"[W]hen I said I did not recall opposition before, I didn't," he testified.

And he was pushed a bit more when presented with a 1992 report drafted by the late congressman Mike Synar, a Democrat from Oklahoma, who took Swimmer to task for not consulting with tribal leaders. The report, "Misplaced Trust: the Bureau of Indian Affairs Management of Indian Trust Funds," is still considered one of the most authoritative sources and it led to the passage of a 1994 law aimed at fixing the broken system.

Tribal leaders have little trouble recalling their dissatisfaction with Swimmer's earlier reign. "Oh, god, that just brings up things I don't even want to talk about," said one.

Many of those feelings resurfaced when Swimmer was brought back to the Department of Interior in late 2001 to help create, and run, a new Indian trust agency. Although he had no input into the hatching of BITAM, it too was met with tribal and Congressional opposition and was eventually scrapped for another proposal that lacks Indian Country support.

Swimmer's appointment earlier this month as Special Trustee for American Indians, the post created by the 1994 act, has continued to enrage tribal leaders.

"It's really hard for to believe that they would make that appointment of Ross Swimmer for that position that is so critical to us at this time with the reorganization of the Bureau of Indian Affairs," added Sue Masten, chairwoman of the Yurok Tribe of California and former president of the National Congress of American Indians. Masten sits on an advisory board to the special trustee.

With the Senate under Republican control, Swimmer faces confirmation hearings this spring. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is under the control of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), who said he supports the controversial appointee.

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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