Transcript: NPR on Indian trust
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The following is a transcript of the NPR report "Bush Trust Fund Plan," which aired on the "Morning Edition" program, December 10, 2001.

Bush Trust Fund Plan:
Host: "Interior Secretary Gale Norton has another Indian trust battle to fight. Her department has proposed taking away the authority for managing trust accounts from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It would create a new agency whose only job is to manage the trust fund. Native American leaders are confused about what the reorganization will accomplish and angry that the government did not consult them before announcing it. From Spokane Public Radio, Doug Nadvornik reports.

Doug Nadvornik: "The new agency will be called the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management. It will oversee accounts held both for individual members and for whole tribes. The Interior Department sees it as a good first step toward fixing a broken system, but tribal leaders say the plan is full of problems.

"The first, says Tex Hall, the newly elected president of the National Congress of American Indians, is that the plan was created without tribal input."

Tex Hall: "It's not only a moral and it's not only a historic but it's also a legal obligation that the United States government has to Indian people. It appears that Secretary Norton is the Grinch that stole consultation."

Nadvornik: "Hall was speaking at the National Congress of American Indians conference in Spokane last month. Neal McCaleb, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, was also there. He told tribal leaders the government didn't have time for consultation because the courts are pressuring it for a solution to the trust problem."

McCaleb: "I know that many of you are concerned, not concerned, maybe angry that you didn't feel consulted with about this process before it was announced. We had between October the 19th and November the 15th to tell the court who's in charge."

Nadvornik: "McCaleb, along with Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, listened to tribal members' concerns. What they heard was frustration and not just about the lack of consultation.

"Gregg Bourland, the chief of the Cheyenne River Sioux, worries the new Indian trust agency will draw money from the same pot that funds the BIA. If that's true, Bourland believes it will put extra demands on the limited resources that fund native programs"

Bourland: "I see issues such as education, tribal courts, law and order, roads, economic development, etc., etc. taking a backseat."

Nadvornik: "Still, it's possible the new agency may not become a reality, at least immediately. If the plaintiff of the class-action lawsuit that led to the government trust reform is successful, the court could put the individual trust accounts in the hands of a temporary receiver. Neal McCaleb warned the tribal leaders that that action would undermine the sovereign to sovereign relationship between the tribes and the US government.

McCaleb: "It means the government is not in charge of the trust any longer. The court is in charge of the trust. And maybe that's right where you want to be, neighbor. I mean, it'd be a lot easier for the Department of Interior just to say, 'Let the judge appoint a separate receiver,' but what happens to the sovereign to sovereign relationship when that happens? "

Nadvornik: "The Spokane conference was the first chance most Indian leaders had to talk with government officials about the trust account reorganization, but more talks are scheduled. Interior Secretary Gale Norton will hold a series of meetings with tribal leaders around the country. The first will be this Thursday in Albuquerque.

"Brian Cladoosby, the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe near Seattle, hopes the secretary will come with an open mind."

Cladoosby: "There's a saying that goes, 'Tell me and I may forget. Show me, I may not remember. Involve me, then the bureau won't have to worry about coming to these meetings and getting their back ends chewed.'"

Nadvornik: "Attorneys for the plaintiffs claim as much as $10 billion in trust money may be owed to individual tribal members across the country. For NPR News, I'm Doug Nadvornik in Spokane."

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NPR covers BIA overhaul, trust fund (12/11)