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Norton contempt testimony concludes

Last updated: 5:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

It took 28 days but the testimony in Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's contempt trial has finally concluded.

The final witness this afternoon was National Congress of American Indians President and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Tex Hall. Appearing on behalf of the Indian beneficiaries, Hall testified for one and one-half hours on a number of topics.

Chief among them was the proposal to create a Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM). Hall reiterated that tribes oppose the new agency unanimously due the lack of consultation but also because he said it fails to address trust management problems.

"We call it bite 'em," said Hall.

Hall responded to Norton's testimony before a Congressional committee and said he was "disheartened" when she claimed BITAM was "superior" to any tribal proposal. "It set back a lot of tribal leaders," he said.

Hall also discounted Norton's claim that tribes don't want the Bureau of Indian Affairs to change. To the contrary, he said tribal leaders have sought changes at the local level and that BITAM won't address their needs.

Another topic addressed was the computer shutdown on Indian Country. As an Individual Indian Money (IIM) account holder, Hall testified that he hasn't received his own checks for grazing and agricultural leases since November.

He added that 6,000 other IIM account holders on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota haven't been paid. "They are having to do without," he said.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth took particular notice of the testimony and wondered why tribal members haven't received checks. According to the Department of Interior and a Department of Justice attorney, grazing payments are being made yet Hall and others have yet to receive the funds.

Finally, Hall said he supported a receiver for the IIM trust because he said judicial oversight was the only way reform would be accomplished. But he said he and other tribal leaders were still willing to work with the department to develop long-term reforms.

"A lot of us call this the Indian Enron," he said, lamenting the state of affairs. But he added: "We can't give up. It's our people. It's our land."

Closing arguments will be made tomorrow morning starting at 10 a.m.

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

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