Tribes ready next assault on Norton plan
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Tribal leaders upset with Secretary of Interior Gale Norton's proposed reorganization of Indian trust are launching the second prong of their assault on the controversial overhaul today, testifying before what is expected to be a contentious oversight hearing.

Unanimously opposed in Indian Country since it was announced under cover of darkness in mid-November, tribal leaders have leveled most of their dissent on the plan to members of the Bush administration. The same complaints will be aired as representatives of major tribal organizations relay their dissatisfaction to members of the House Resources Committee.

"A wholesale restructuring of the department without a responsibly developed plan for what is to be achieved would be somewhat like catching air in a net," Charles Tillman, chairman of the Inter-Tribal Monitoring Association and chairman of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, says in his prepared testimony.

"Prodigious amounts of energy can be expended," he continues. "The movement can be mesmerizing. But in the end, nothing will have been changed."

The criticism reflects what has been heard at seven "consultation" meetings the Department of Interior has held since December. Tribes have spoken repeatedly in a single voice about the lack of consultation and the inadequacy of the proposal.

But what the hearing represents today is the next leg of a three-tiered attack to derail what has been called a runaway train. The effort, tribal leaders say, focuses on all branches of the federal government to ensure successful trust reform.

"We've already got litigation, now we're working on the administration and now we're going to work on legislation to help fix this thing," said Tex Hall, President of the National Congress of American Indians, in an interview. Keeping Norton "engaged," he said, is just one part of the strategy.

Tribes and U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who is presiding over the five-year-old Individual Indian Money (IIM), have long kept their eye on the situation. But perhaps for the first time, department officials acknowledge, the consultation, the contempt trial and the Interior's computer shutdown have finally grabbed the attention of the administration and Congress in an unprecedented manner.

"For the first time in history, we have the judicial, legislative and administrative branch of government focusing time and energy to trust reform in Indian Country," Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles told reporters last week.

Today's hearing starts at 10 a.m. The first witness will be Norton, who will be joined by Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb and Special Trustee Tom Slonaker. They will be followed by two panels of tribal representatives.

The House Resources Committee web site will cary a live audio feed at See the audio link for 1334 Longworth House Office Building.

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

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