McCaleb: Without settlement accounting a 'guess'
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The Department of Interior can only "guess" whether the account balances of 300,000 American Indians are correct, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb said in an interview published on Friday.

An historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust won't be accurate for any number of reasons, McCaleb told Sam Donaldson of ABC News in a phone conversation. Missing records, destroyed documents and fractionated ownership contribute to an insurmountable task, he said.

"There's no question that an historical accounting is incomplete, if not in something of a disarray," McCaleb, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said.

"The BIA has never been able to honestly say they could do an accurate historical accounting," he added.

The only way to resolve the mess, McCaleb said, is to settle a class action lawsuit that was filed against the government in 1996. Otherwise, he said "[y]ou make a guess at what your bank account [balance] is."

McCaleb, however, didn't know how much the plaintiffs might be awarded if an agreement was ever reached. Asked to reply to claims that $100 billion is owed to the beneficiaries, McCaleb said: "Because we can't do an accounting, I can't refute that."

But McCaleb defended his department against charges that the trust is being mismanaged today. He said each allottee is provided a quarterly statement which shows "a thorough current accounting" of his or her funds.

"I think we are doing a very effective current accounting," he said.

Lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell was openly skeptical. In a videotaped segment with Donaldson, the Blackfeet Nation of Montana banker said the government is not meeting its trust obligations.

"We're out of chances for the government to manage our money," she said. "What we're asking for in this lawsuit is a receiver. Take it out of the Department of the Interior."

One thing Cobell did agree with McCaleb on was a settlement. While she criticized the government for its "dirty war games," she hoped the parties could finalize a number "very soon."

"I hope older people will have the benefit of seeing some of their money before they die," she said. "People are dying every single day in sheer poverty but yet have all this money that is due them."

According to Donaldson, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles was trying to clear up his schedule to appear with Cobell but couldn't make it.

Sam on Indian Trust:
Video with Cobell | Audio with McCaleb | Sam Says

Relevant Links:
Sam Donaldson -

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

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