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Carl Artman gets initial committee nod as BIA head

WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously approved the nomination of Carl Artman to head the BIA following a confirmation hearing Sept. 14.

From Capitol Hill to Albuquerque, N.M., close observers of Indian affairs consider Artman a caretaker – a top official who is more likely to follow the course set for him than to forge a path on priorities of his own. The administration he serves will have only two years left in office by the time the full Senate confirms him (as it is expected to); the BIA budget for fiscal year 2007 is already all but officially in place; and Artman comes from within the BIA’s parent department, Interior, where he serves as associate solicitor for Indian affairs.

But if he’s a caretaker, he’s a welcome one. The top post at the BIA has been vacant since February 2005, and in that time the bureau has undergone reorganizations from within Interior and hostile court orders from without. Tribal concern for the BIA’s perceived-to-be shrunken position within the federal bureaucracy has been rampant.

Artman’s Indian-specific legal expertise and his previous tenure as the Washington representative of his own tribe, the Oneidas of Wisconsin, may stand the bureau in especially good stead if Interior still has to confront litigation over the Individual Indian Money trust in the 110th Congress, beginning next January. The SCIA has been stymied so far in its efforts to legislate a settlement in the long-running case known as Cobell, in part by a slow pace of response to its draft proposals at Interior and the Department of Justice. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman until the end of the current 109th Congress, complained publicly about the administration’s presumed inertia and charged Artman with carrying the message to his superiors at Interior. McCain and his vice chairman on the committee, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., also sent a letter requesting action to Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

In addition to forceful remarks in support of tribal sovereignty and against the full range of well-known “societal plagues” that beset Indian country, Artman offered his support for a settlement in Cobell. “Resolution to this matter is critical, whether it comes from Congress, the administration or the courts. From whatever quarter it hales, if confirmed, I will assist in its development and implementation. The sooner this litigation ends, the sooner we improve our relationship with tribes and the sooner we increase for Indians and Alaska Natives the impact of the benefits of that relationship.”