One must wonder about the direction of the federal Indian agency toward tribal nations at this time of war footing in America. Will it be able to defend the tribal bases? As America streamlines all its systems to confront the terrorist emergency, what might be lost or imperiled in the widespread apparatus of American Indian rights?
Where might go the focus on trust reform, for example, particularly the recovery of resources for the Indian trust accounts? This is seriously stalled, because of the lack of fundamental accounting.
Monitors appointed by the courts speak of a trust reform process "on the verge of failure." Does this mean that the BIA does not know how to fix a problem of such magnitude? On this issue, which has faltered for years, is the BIA's incompetence of such long standing that it is nearly impossible for anyone to penetrate it, to command enough resources to fix it? Is this the issue that so clearly shows the country's continuing process of rapaciously eating up the resources of American Indian peoples?
The case of billions lost to Indian family and tribal accounts is the story of a major federal boondoggle going back a century. It needs huge attention, and to the thousands of families, who might be better off right now but for the extremely mismanaged if not corrupt federal oversight, it is a crucial issue. It is a question of whether fundamental justice can be done.
So far, every study and court action appears to castigate the Indian agency. That is the current. On this issue, the bureau is inconsistent with its information, has not moved with any efficiency to clean up the system or to make proper accounting procedures come to bear. The court's special master on the case, Alan Balaran, in pursuit of missing and intentionally destroyed documents, continues to rap Gale Norton for falling "short of the requisite diligence and good faith necessary."
So were rapped soundly in the previous administration Kevin Gover, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, all charged with contempt for "failing to comply" to court orders to produce records in a timely manner. A recent report to the court points to "widespread mismanagement" by senior officials, who failed or refused to conduct a proper historical accounting, "covered up their mismanagement," and "all the while providing this court with ... misleading assessments ..."
The court's report excoriated both BIA and Interior "career executive service managers" for failing to solve the problem, although they "have had the time." Secretary Norton has asked for more, extra time to solve the severe standstill. She appeared close to being next on that contempt line-up, at least until Sept. 11.
But, are all bets are off after Sept. 11, as the focus on combating terror attacks dislocates internal justice issues from their normal place of attention? Unfortunately, this is after half a decade of repugnant federal foot-dragging on the more than 100-year-old process.
Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as Indian and non-Indian bureaucrats alike have utterly failed at this important question of whether the USA's Interior Department, charged with the safeguarding of the most ripped off and destitute peoples within its nation, can halt this ongoing dishonor.
In respect for the people who have suffered destitution and despair as a result of this continuous injustice, we hope this case will not be disregarded now, as the country moves to other priorities. On the contrary, congressional forces, as they take up regular business, should demand an independent task force, a "receiver," worth its salt, armed with the necessary skill-sets, to completely tackle this thorny problem.
We express our deepest appreciation and a strong salute to those who have worked to hold Interior's feet to the fire on this issue and who act from virtuous motives.
We urge your important network not to desist now in seeking justice for Indian people but to keep pressing, respectfully and in spirit of collaboration and efficiency, for this, and indeed, for the whole range of extremely important Indian country issues. To sustain the continuous process of community betterment, to strengthen the struggle to improve our social, economic and cultural conditions, to seek a sense of proper justice that will balance the mind and improve the body -- these are excellent goals for Native peoples, now and always.
For ourselves, we clearly understand that the American leadership must seek to hold accountable the perpetrators of such a horrible and clearly directed crime as occurred on Sept. 11. But, while many might think of this time in history only in terms of war, reality tells us that the other side of this unfolding time is the duty to pursue life, liberty and happiness in all of our necessary goals and activities.
In the sacrifice of seeking justice, it is reassuring and reaffirming to see justice done.