WASHINGTON - Neal McCaleb's resignation as head of the BIA is "a bad thing for Indians," former BIA head Kevin Gover told Indian Country Today.
"It's very dangerous for Indian Affairs to be in a transition situation when the rest of the [Interior] Department is not," Gover said. "If you don't have an assistant secretary at the table, you are at a disadvantage."
Gover, now a columnist for Indian Country Today, warned that without a senior official to advocate for Indian issues, Indian country could lose ground in budget fights, specific conflicts like Klamath basin irrigation or "almost any water dispute."
He speculated that part of McCaleb's problem was that Interior seemed to make Indian policy "by a high-level committee." Referring to the higher levels of the Interior Department, he said, "There are too many people on the Sixth Floor who don't know that much about Indian affairs."
Gover sympathized with McCaleb's complaint about the consuming impact of the Cobell class action lawsuit over individual Indian money account mismanagement, but he said, "It's a part of the territory." He said it would bedevil McCaleb's successor "and the next two or three guys after that."
But he said, "It's too bad the Cobell litigation has become so personal."
Gover also deplored the apparent intrusion of dirty tricks into the previous selection of the BIA head. James (Tim) Martin, executive director of United South and Eastern Tribes, was a strong contender for the job until the Washington Post revealed that Donald Trump, the Atlantic City casino mogul, had written a letter of support for him. Widespread Indian anger at Trump over a series of hostile remarks apparently dragged down Martin's chances.
Good candidates would not want to be considered for the post, Gover said, "if they're going to get slimed."
"This is not a good time for us," Gover warned. "There is nothing good about this except that Mr. McCaleb gets to go home to a well-deserved rest."