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Hostile Hearing Sparks Call for Anderson's Resignation


WASHINGTON - BIA head David Anderson didn't even have to set foot in the
hearing room of an unfriendly House Government Reform Committee to run into
the first political storm of his short tenure.

Less than five months after the U.S. Senate voted Anderson's confirmation
as Assistant Interior Secretary - Indian Affairs, one senator was calling
for his resignation and Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., was
expressing surprise and disappointment about his conduct.

The issue was Anderson's request, approved by Interior Secretary Gale
Norton, to be recused from all decisions involving tribal recognition and
gaming, including land into trust. Norton agreed, meaning that they will be
handled by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Aurene Martin.

Anderson had earlier recused himself from the imminent decision on the
Nipmuc nation, who have a management contract with Lakes Entertainment and
have received multi-million dollar backing for their petition from its
principal, Lyle Berman. Anderson and Berman were once business partners in
tribal casino projects.

Although the across-the-board recusal was reported in that week's Indian
Country Today, the May 5 hearing was when it penetrated the Washington
consciousness. Critics who came to the hearing to denounce what they saw as
political interference with the BIA recognition process tacked abruptly
into a deploring of Anderson's attempt to avoid conflict of interest.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told the committee, "I am
deeply troubled that Mr. Anderson will be unable to perform some of the key
responsibilities of the office for which he was nominated and confirmed by

"Recusal on individual cases may be appropriate for particular ethics or
conflict of interest reasons specific to the case at hand," he said. "But
such general, across the board delegation is severely problematic, raising
constitutional and statutory questions about overbroad illegal delegation
and avoidance of proper responsibility. At the very least, this delegation
of powers circumvents Congressional authority to review and confirm the
person entrusted with making critical tribal recognition decisions."

U.S. Sen. Thomas Dodd, D-Conn., went further. "There was no indication that
this guy was going to get the job and take himself out of the picture," he
said. "He should not have accepted the job to begin with. I think he's got
to resign."

The predominance of Connecticut politicians in the attack on Anderson put
tribal leaders on the alert, and by the next week some were rallying to his
defense. (A rumor among Connecticut tribes asserted that the mysterious
hold on Anderson's confirmation last fall was engineered by Dodd to induce
him to rescind the recognition of the Eastern Pequots.)

But before the second thoughts, Daschle weighed in on the side of his
Senate colleague. In a May 6 statement he said that tribal leaders,
"deserve to know how an Assistant Secretary who cannot participate in
negotiations on some of the most important issues of the day will provide
the leadership authority necessary to uphold a viable
government-to-government relationship.

"Tribal leaders struggle daily with a broad array of critical problems,
such as inadequate health care, mismanagement of trust assets, and
deteriorating BIA schools. They deserve some assurance that their
priorities will not be not relegated to second-class status by the
Assistant Secretary's reluctance to engage on some of the most pressing
issues facing Indian country today."

The recusal in fact did not affect the issues Daschle cited. In an order
dated April 9, Norton delegated authority to the Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary, Aurene Martin, "to execute all documents, including regulations
and other Federal Register notices, and perform all other duties relating
to federal recognition of Native American tribes, taking land into trust
for gaming purposes, and other gaming matters."

Norton added that Martin would now be responsible for implementing the
"strategic plan for improving the recognition process."

The Government Reform Committee has focused on tribal recognition at the
behest of a senior member, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., a
long-time opponent of tribal gaming. The May 5 hearing prominently featured
Connecticut opponents of tribal recognition, including several small-town
politicians and the anti-Pequot writer Jeff Benedict, who now runs the
Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion.

Chief Richard Velky of the recently recognized Schaghti-coke Tribal Nation
refused to appear after seeing the witness list and calling it "stacked"
against him. Eastern Pequot Chair Marcia Jones Flowers did represent her
tribe, whose 2002 recognition is in limbo during the state's appeal to the
Interior Bureau of Indian Appeals, and gave an unusually blunt

Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney declined to discuss details of his
on-going investigation of the Schaghticoke recognition, begun at the
request of Shays and other members of the Connecticut Congressional
delegation. Although his harsh criticisms of earlier recognition decisions
have endeared him to the committee, he observed that the process "is
relatively speaking one of the more transparent processes in DOI,
especially after several recent changes in the program."

Both Anderson and Martin skipped the session.