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Gover says 'Bring it on' to yet another BIA probe

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Half a year after leaving office, Kevin Gover and Michael J. Anderson are heading for the record books as two of the most investigated former heads of the BIA. So their reaction to news of yet another federal probe of their tribal recognition decisions could be described as calm exasperation.

"This has very little to do with the integrity of Kevin Gover and Michael Anderson, which I hope is unchallenged," Anderson told ICT. "It has all to do with politics."

"Bring it on because I have done nothing wrong," Gover said. "I'm hoping this will put an end to all of this nonsense."

The current investigation, reported last week by a Connecticut newspaper, originated with a query from Congressman Frank Wolf, Republican of Virginia, to the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior, Anderson said. Wolf, a prominent opponent of all forms of gambling, asked for a probe of the recognition decisions of the last four years but Anderson said the IG's office decided to focus on the last three weeks of the Clinton administration.

Gover, Interior's former assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said he hadn't been interviewed in the latest probe but in any case the BIA wasn't the real issue. "They're not attacking us. They're attacking the tribes."

He said the personal attacks were tactics in a campaign by Connecticut politicians to delay pending recognition of several tribes with a very strong case.

These petitions were filed decades ago, "before casinos were even thought of."

Anderson served as deputy assistant Interior secretary for Indian affairs from March 1995 to January 2001. He was acting head of the BIA in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Bush after Gover resigned in early January to take a position with the D.C. law firm Steptoe and Johnson.

Anderson now works with the D.C. firm of Monteau, Peebles and Crowell.

Several long-standing opponents of tribal recognitions in Connecticut, including the state's Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, have criticized Anderson's preliminary approval of two tribal petitions, for the Duwamish and the Nipmucs, on the day before the Bush inauguration.

Anderson actually turned down the petition for a second Nipmuc faction, the Chabunagungamaug Nipmuck (sic) clan. The report from the Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) said this group would be represented by the larger Nipmuc Nation led by the Hassanamisco clan, in spite of a bitter feud between leaders of the two.

Although based in Massachusetts, the Nipmucs also have members and aboriginal claims in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Apparent attempts to buy land where a major Interstate highway crosses the Massachusetts-Connecticut border have fueled intense local speculation about Nipmuc plans for a casino. The tribe recently signed a management compact with Lakes Gaming, a Minnesota company with other American Indian casino interests.

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Anderson said the inspector general had already conducted one review of his Nipmuc decision based on charges from an unnamed BIA employee, who apparently thought he was looking for work with the tribe. The investigator "basically found I had not approached them for work and do not work for them.

"He reported his finding to the inspector general, who wrote to the assistant secretary, who reported to me that the charges are groundless."

The current review appears to focus more on the process of granting recognition, Anderson said.

"It's very similar in tone" to another more extensive study by the General Accounting Office, also requested by Congressmen Wolf and Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut.

The GAO report is expected sometime in September.

"They're looking at paper," Anderson said, referring to the volumes of files on the tribal applications. "In no case are they looking at wrong-doing, criminal activity or conflict of interest. It's simply not there."

Anderson did say, however, that he suggested the IG look into suspicions that current BIA employees had leaked confidential information from tribal petitions to towns and politicians opposing them. He also referred to former BAR researchers who had switched sides and become paid consultants to opponents of petitions they had helped prepare.

"That's the only true conflict of interest that's been identified, but no one seems to be concerned about it."

Anderson also refuted the frequent description of the two recognitions as "last-minute." The decisions were due much earlier, but were delayed by Gover's resignation. He said it took him several weeks just to find the time to finish reading the lengthy reports.

"I could have not made a decision," he said, adding he knew another six months would be lost in the Bush transition.

And, in a major factor ignored by his critics, the BIA had just lost a major case in which a Washington, D.C., federal district judge ruled that its delays on recognition petitions violated the Administrative Procedures Act. The judge imposed a timetable for a ruling on the Muwekma tribe of California, and other federal judges, including two in Connecticut, have since followed suit.

"If we didn't act on the tribal petitions the courts would take over."

Ironically, Anderson's decisions are still on hold, since the Bush White House put a freeze on a broad range of last-minute rulings. But if the new administration should reverse them, predicted Anderson, it would spark a major lawsuit on the order of the trust fund case.