NCAI's Hall testifies on impact of shutdown
Facebook Twitter Email

The leader of the nation's largest tribal organization testified on Wednesday of the dramatic effect the Department of Interior's computer shutdown has had on Indian Country, drawing the attention of a federal judge who doubted whether he can force the government to live up to its responsibilities.

On the last day of Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's contempt trial, National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall described numerous hardships facing Indian landowners. As chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, he said over 6,000 tribal members -- including himself -- have not received trust payments since last November.

"Any day now," is the answer received when the Bureau of Indian Affairs is asked when the funds will be distributed, Hall said.

As a result, there has been a domino effect on the health and welfare of tribal members. From ranchers whose economic livelihood depends on proceeds from agricultural leases to elders whose sole source of income is money derived from Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts, the lack of payments has hurt the reservation, he said.

"It's really a devastating issue for our account holders," Hall testified.

Hall pointed out a particularly difficult situation facing a 60-year-old elder, whose leg was recently amputated and who needs to travel a long distance to receive health care. As a large landowner, she should be able to purchase a handicapped-equipped vehicle to take care of herself, he said, but can't because she hasn't received her money.

"She's basically going without," he said.

Due to the ongoing shutdown, tribal members are now turning to the tribe for loans, Hall said. But the tribe can't extend money because the collateral they would normally have -- an IIM check -- is non-existent.

"Their credit is ruined," he testified.

The federal government is turning a blind eye as well, he said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture won't offer loans, even as a last resort, when commercial ranchers have no credit.

"I can't emphasize this enough: the IIM check is important," Hall said.

Hall's remarks drew the attention of U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who earlier in the day blasted the government for not resolving the issue. Although Lamberth's court has granted permission for the Integrated Records Management System (IRMS) to be restarted, it would appear there are still numerous delays regarding leasing payments.

As for the oil and gas payments, the department has acknowledged it hasn't made any. Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles promised last week the department would disburse the funds as soon as possible.

But Lamberth questioned whether forcing the department to fulfill its trust obligations would improve matters. Attorneys representing the IIM beneficiaries have asked for a court order to do just that.

"What good would that do?" Lamberth wondered. "They haven't obeyed a court order I made yet."

In response, attorney Dennis Gingold renewed calls to put Norton and other top officials in jail. He also suggested that her paycheck, and those of other employees, be withheld.

"As long as the taxpayers are paying the bill," Gingold asserted, "nothing's going to change."

"Our clients can't afford it."

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

Related Stories:
Royalty checks still not out (2/20)
Letter: Dom Nessi took my job (2/19) sputtering through (2/19)
No payments hurt Indian Country (2/14)
Griles has hope on contempt (2/13)
Norton concludes testimony (2/13)
Norton takes the stand in contempt (2/13)
Norton agrees to testify (2/12)
Norton set for trial testimony (2/12)
Trust fund mess blamed on Babbitt (2/11)
Norton ordered to testify (2/8)
Trust system takes center stage in contempt (2/1)
Federal judge resuming Norton contempt trial (1/31)
Norton effort 'too little, too late' for judge (1/16)
Interior official denies trust fund 'conspiracy' (1/15)
Witness testifies against software corruption (1/15)
Dom Nessi expected as Norton witness (1/14)
Norton launches contempt defense (1/11)
Cobell plaintiffs rest case (1/10)
End in sight for Norton contempt trial (1/10)
Top trust official lacks 'confidence' in reform (1/9)
Babbitt, others dropped as witnesses (1/9)
Trial resumes with trust testimony (1/7)
Contempt trial resumes in federal court (1/4)
Cobell: Justice for Indian Country (12/24)
Contempt trial breaking for Christmas (12/21)
IIM checks being delayed at Interior (12/21)
Interior can't find proof of corruption (12/21)
Tribal leaders blast Norton proposal (12/21)
Reports crucial to Norton contempt (12/21)
TAAMS failure traced to first manager (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
Norton drops objections to court monitor (12/20)
TAAMS: The Titanic Failure (12/20)
Judge questions role in trust fund 'circus' (12/20)
TAAMS failure traced to promoted manager (12/20)
Ruling on court monitor put off (12/20)
Norton ordered to submit trust fund report (12/18)
Judge rebuffs Norton challenge (12/17)
Week two of trial continues today (12/17)
History of neglect drives trust case (12/17)
Judge eager for Norton testimony (12/13)
Editorial: Bad faith, wasted dollars (12/13)
Confusion, conflict detailed at Interior (12/12)
Exclusive: Trust reform assessment (12/12)
Lamberth pokes fun at government (12/12)
EDS trust reform report online (12/12)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 2 (12/12)
Contempt trial continues (12/11)
Contested reports focus of contempt trial (12/11)
The Trial: Witnesses to Contempt (12/11)
Coverage of Contempt Trial, Day 1 (12/11)
Norton contempt trial opens (12/10)
Norton attacks court monitor (12/10)
Norton set for contempt trial (12/10)