Tribes Across Indian Country Rejecting Bush Administration's Proposed Amendments to Senate Bill 1439

Tribes across Indian Country including the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI), the United South Eastern Tribes and the Great Plains Chairman's Association are outraged at the Bush Administration proposed amendments to Senate Bill 1439 "The Indian Trust Reform Act." The three Regions comprised of over 80 Indian tribes joined forces for Trust Reform legislation when the Interior Department began using funds appropriated to fulfill tribal trust management duties to defend itself from the Cobell lawsuit.

ATNI President Ernest Stensgar said, "Where is the dialogue? Where is the respect to Indian Country?"

ATNI Member Tribe, the Quinault Nation Chair Fawn Sharp said, "We are appalled that although S.1439 has been available for comment for over a year, the Administration has decided to wait until the last moment to bring forward proposals that would absolve the United States of its trust responsibilities and treaty obligations with Indian Nations and fundamentally alter the nature of federal-Indian relationships." The provisions include:

1) Land FractionationóConsolidate all 128,000 individual Indian allotments into ownership of no more than 10 individuals PER TRACT of land within 10 years.

2) Beneficiary-Managed TrustóTransitions of all individual Indian and tribal land to a beneficiary-managed trust system within 10 years, (i.e., privatize the federal trust responsibility).

3) Resolution of Tribal Claims Related to the Mismanagement of Trust Funds, Lands and Resources.

4) Limitation on Liability of the United States During and After Transition Period.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently recognized that, "In many acts of Congress and numerous decisions of this Court, it [the United States Government] has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust toward the Indian nations." (Seminole Nation vs. U.S., 1942) This trust duty is rooted in land cessions made by the Indian tribes and expressed in treaties, statues and agreements over the course of more than 200 years of dealings. These cessions of many millions of acres were conditioned upon an understanding that the federal government, in exchange for freeing up vast amounts of territory for settlement by non-Indians, would safeguard the autonomy of the tribes by protecting their retained lands and territories. In its most basic terms, this "deal" or contract with the Indian tribes is fulfilled in the terms of the U.S. Trust Responsibility. If the Congress were to approve the Bush Administration's proposals to "privatize" Indian trust lands and relieve the U.S. of any legal liabilities for the management and protection of trust assets, the U.S. would be violating the most fundamental terms of this historic agreement.

Chairman Harold Frazier of the Great Plains Tribes made this statement during the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs meeting in Rapid City, SD, on October 25, 2006:

"The Administration continues to try to punish our Tribal Nations for the individual Indians who stood up and made the federal government accountable in Cobell. How can this Administration seek to end the trust responsibility which the government has never fulfilled? How can they seek to include tribal claims in the settlement when we do not yet know the extent of those claims? The federal government created these problems; they should admit their shame and embarrassment and seek to finally fulfill their responsibilities, not end those responsibilities. People at the local level have the solutions, our voices need to be heard and our leadership respected. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe opposes this shameful attempt at termination."

There was a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Tribal Consultation Meeting on November 3, 2006, at the Federal Building/BPA, in Portland, Oregon. The ATNI member tribes as well as other interested tribes had the opportunity to voice their -positions about these proposed provisions for Senate Bill 1439.

For additional information, please contact: Lyn Dennis, ATNI Executive Director, (503) 249-5770 or (503) 805-4569 or A .Gay Kingman, Consultant, Great Plains Chairman's Association

© News From Indian Country November 13, 2006