WASHINGTON - At a BIA staff meeting Jan. 31 to announce the resignation of
Dave Anderson as head of the bureau, Anderson spokesperson Nedra Darling
detected a general sadness at the news.
Anderson's brand of self-improvement rhetoric is replete with unorthodox
demands on audiences to stand up and jump in place that same rhetoric has
been the public voice of his ambition to enhance Indian people from within
through positive attitudes toward oneself that build into skill sets for
success at bureau learning academies. A BIA of Anderson's would be
overhauled to deliver quality service to Indian clients and develop
positive attributes of success in Indian youth. Anderson spoke of BIA
education on this model just after the presidential Inauguration Day.
It's a work of years, cut off by the resignation effective Feb. 12.
Anderson, founder of the Famous Dave's Barbecue Shack restaurant franchise,
now says the best way for him to serve Indian country is to "develop
innovative concepts to promote economic development." In a resignation
letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton (the BIA is a part of Interior),
he offers to "share them with you." In reply, Norton welcomes the chance to
"review the proposal." Darling said, "I don't know what that is" - whether
policy recommendations, a consulting product or a thought piece.
With the Washington institution of a face-saving exercise seemingly in
place, so ends Anderson's one-year tenure. The accomplishments of that year
didn't even fill out the six bullet points in his resignation letter. The
only one of them initiated by Anderson amounted to breaking ground for an
Indian programs training center. But Anderson was notably upfront in
accepting criticism of BIA-operated Indian prison systems, which came under
scathing criticism on his watch for problems that had played out over
years. One of his bullet points mentioned thousands of safety and security
improvements at detention centers. If he had waited on the announcement for
a few days, another bullet point might have been the Feb. 1 signing of a
Memorandum of Understanding that would bring Boys and Girls Clubs of
America - an institution long favored by Anderson - into BIA schools.
Critics have repeatedly called for Anderson's dismissal after he banished
himself from BIA processes and decisions regarding gaming and tribal
recognition. But proposals are planned before the Republican-controlled
committees of Indian jurisdiction in both chambers, Resources in the House
of Representatives and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, that would
restructure Interior's role on both issues, much reducing BIA involvement.
Little more than a month ago, Anderson told an Associated Press reporter "I
very definitely do" plan to stay in the politically-appointed office. In
the same interview Anderson said of the BIA top job: "I think this is very
challenging because there have been many times that I've wanted to just
say, hey, the bureaucracy is too much and I want to go back to being a
cook. But I'm not a quitter."
Therefore the question of whether he quit voluntarily was bound to come up.
But Interior spokesperson Dan Dubray was on vacation, leaving an Interior
press release and the Anderson-Norton letters as "official comment," in the
words of another Interior staff member. Nedra Darling, Anderson's personal
spokesperson, referred questions to him. Anderson was in Phoenix and did
not return a call by press time.
Jacqueline Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American
Indians, said Anderson simply saw that he could not accomplish his goals in
taking the position. "Dave's not a quitter ... He really had a dream and
vision of what he wanted to accomplish."
But in his time on the job, Anderson saw the BIA reorganized according to
an Interior plan against tribal wishes, potential BIA funding lost to trust
management reform, and BIA computers shut down over the Indian trust funds
lawsuit known as Cobell. Anderson's predecessor, Neal McCaleb, resigned
because of frustrations with the lawsuit and its impact on the bureau.
Anderson's own comments on the federal bureaucracy suggest that the private
sector capacity for relatively unbridled initiative was more to his taste.
Johnson at NCAI said the strain of the litigation and the challenge of
presenting White House positions to tribes with their own demands is
shrinking the pool of candidates for the job. A question they're bound to
ask themselves is, "How much can they accomplish?"
Johnson added that she has concerns with the BIA at large. "Actually
there's been so many key vacancies for such a long time ... There's a lot
of turnover at the helm."
Interior associate deputy secretary James Cason will "fill the gap" left by
Anderson until a new BIA leader can be nominated by Pres. Bush and
confirmed by the Senate, Darling said.