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Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe calls for input into trust reforms

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. ? The reorganization of trust responsibilities and sweeping reforms taking place without the consultation of tribes prompted their leadership to begin a letter-writing campaign seeking a formal consultation before Secretary of Interior Gale Norton executes her plans.

Following a discussion with Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Gregg Bourland, the tribal council passed a resolution strongly opposing the change and asking Norton's office to cease the action until tribal governments have input into reforms in the system.

However, Norton wants the plan implemented in fewer than 30 days.

The move is in response to a class-action lawsuit initiated by former Blackfeet treasurer, Montana banker and lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell against the BIA for failing to properly oversee trust fund accounts and dispersal of monies to the tribes and individual tribal members for royalties and land leases.

Norton's reorganization would consolidate Indian trust asset management functions in a Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM).

"It is very clear as to the intent of Secretary Norton. Take all trust functions away from the OST (Office of the Special Trustee) and BIA creating BITAM. Do it with little or no consultation with the tribes, BIA, OST and Congress. The proposal could have a negative effect in the way the tribes contract and compact with the BIA," Bourland said, reading the tribe's resolution.

Bourland noted the tribe's significant interest in trust management since it will have a total of more than $333 million in trust funds making it one of the largest trust tribes in the nation. Additionally, the tribe has more than a million acres of tribal trust lands.

The reforms could have implications for tribes such as Cheyenne River which contract services using 638 contracts, he said.

Further the council asked the National Congress of American Indians to support the resolution during its recent conference.

The tribe also asked Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to support the tribe and others across the nation in bringing about consultation, a word Norton has echoed in speeches across the nation as she has pledged to allow tribal input.

"We're not sure of the line of authority or if there is going to be a land office here at a local agency," Bourland said.

Bourland, who attended a regional tribal-BIA meeting in Bismarck, said the heads of the BIA have been put on notice.

"It is very obvious the new agency doesn't work for the BIA, leaving only a skeleton or a shell to manage roads and other functions."

The chairman said a love-hate relationship with the agencies is likely to develop because of difficulties that will arise as a result of dismantling the BIA's control over certain services.

Bourland said BIA officials received a memo stating they were not to confer with the tribes.

"At the meeting in Bismarck, Aberdeen Area Director Cora Jones indicated department heads had been put on notice. If Secretary Norton is going to do this she will usurp an act of Congress because this taking the office off trustee."

Bourland called TAAMS a "scandalous nightmare" for the BIA.

"The accounting systems didn't work and it was a $60 million failure. It is a scandal. More importantly, they lied to the court, the tribes and lied to Congress knowing full well it doesn't do the job it was intended to do."

The Cheyenne River resolution instructs tribes to lobby Congress and the Interior Appropriations Committee asking that reforms are not funded until tribal leaders have adequate time to study the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP) and go through a formal consultation process allowing them input into the architecture of the plan.