Testimony of Gale A. Norton

Secretary of the Interior

before the Committee on Resources

U.S. House of Representatives

February 6, 2002

Native American Trust Issues and Ongoing Challenges


Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, for inviting me to testify at this hearing on the Native American Trust program being administered by the Department of the Interior, including the key elements of trust reform and trust asset management.

Comments on the trust program were included in my first Congressional testimony as Secretary of the Interior. On February 28, 2001, I told Congress the following:

"I would like to comment on a matter of very high priority for myself and for the Department, and that is the matter of Indian trust reform. As the Trustee, I clearly recognize the important obligations of the Department to put in place those systems, procedures, and people to fulfill our obligation to the trust beneficiaries, both individual Indians and tribes. This is an enormous undertaking in correcting the errors and omissions of many decades. Coming into this position, and so early in my tenure seeing a decision from the Court of Appeals in the Cobell litigation, I have to say that I have grave concerns about our existing management systems. It is a very high priority for me that the person who comes in as Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and the other people who fulfill leadership positions as to our Indian responsibilities are people with strong management backgrounds and abilities. (Emphasis added)"

My experience of the past year has reinforced the concerns I expressed last February. The problems we are working to solve have been over a century in the making. Allow me to explain the Department's role in managing Indian trust assets, the amount of land and accounts we hold in trust, the work entailed in managing these accounts, the challenges we face in trust management, the work underway to address these challenges, and areas where legislative and executive action is needed.


Current Holdings -- An understanding of the work that lies ahead requires a recognition of the complex issues we have inherited. Trust asset management involves approximately 11 million acres held in trust or in restricted status for individual Indians and nearly 45 million acres held in trust for the Tribes, a combined area the size of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. This land produces income from more than 100,000 active leases for 350,000 individual Indian owners and 315 Tribal owners. Leasing and sales revenues of approximately $300 million per year are distributed to more than 225,000 open Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts and revenue of approximately $800 million per year is distributed to the 1,400 Tribal accounts.

Trust Functions in Interior -- Indian trust asset management involves many agencies and offices within the Department, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, the Minerals Management Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Office of Surface Mining.

For example, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is responsible for the leasing of trust lands, keeping tract of land ownership, lease obligations, and appeals. The Office of the Special Trustee focuses on the management of the actual trust accounts. The Minerals Management Service handles royalty collection and the verification of those payments. The Bureau of Land Management does the official surveys of Indian trust land and tracks the status of actual lease operations on the land.

In short, these agencies must hire, train and retain personnel that: