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Indian Affairs assistant secretary lends an ear at NCAI

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Carl Artman: 'We will work with you'

DENVER - The recent National Congress of American Indians national convention was a perfect setting for Carl Artman, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, to talk about a new way of doing business with Indian country.

Artman was the featured speaker during one of the general assembly sessions and he remained at the convention, held in Denver Nov. 11-16, for more than two days in which he held private meetings, attended special sessions and listened to complaints and ideas.

''I have a long to-do list,'' Artman said.

He said the relationship between the BIA, tribes, agencies and communities can be improved with partnerships; and that the wildfires in California showed how agencies, tribes and the BIA all worked together in those partnerships.

''Tribes across the country pulled together to help, and we want to be an active partner in that community,'' Artman said.

He said the BIA wanted to strategize with tribal governments to make quick decisions and to change the interaction between communities.

Artman touched briefly on a number of topics from energy development, the probate backlog, law enforcement and methamphetamine mitigation to self-sufficiency and economic development.

''Ten percent of the natural resources in the country are in Indian country, and this can be developed as an economic resource,'' he said.

''Self-sufficiency is available through natural resources.''

The probate backlog has long been a contentious issue with many tribes, and he said the backlog should be cleared up by 2009. The backlog dates back to 1890, according to Artman.

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Artman's speech to the general assembly was brief in order to give time to questions and comments.

''I am encouraged by some of the things you say,'' said Michael Marchand, chairman of the Colville Business Council, to Artman.

Marchand said that since the Office of the Special Trustee was developed, there have been problems with appraisals and that the loss of transactions had gotten worse.

''Get OST back under the umbrella of the bureau,'' Marchand said.

Those words were echoed time and again by many tribal leaders at the general assembly and in various meetings.

In response to a question about tribal recognition, Artman said, ''I acknowledge that it has had a storied history, but we are looking at a way to speed up the process.''

A very big issue was so-called ''638 contracting,'' which, under Public Law 93-638, enables many tribes to manage their own BIA programs with federal monies that at one time had been administered on their behalf by the BIA or the IHS. Many Great Plains tribes want very little to do with 638 contracting, objecting to the amount of red tape involved in operating the programs. They are opting to remain direct-service tribes.

''The roadblocks are getting in the way of making programs work. We see more cuts when we 638 social and law enforcement,'' said Tracy ''Ching'' King, Assiniboine and council member from Fort Belknap, Mont.

''We are the poorest of the poor and most people are on TANF and we have to make arrangements with the state. There are too many agreements with the states. We have to fight for those who can't fight for themselves and the state and BIA put up roadblocks,'' King said.

In a time when tribes want to move forward by changing constitutions and separate the powers within the government, the question was asked: Why does it take so long to approve that proposal, or why does it take so long to put land into trust?

Artman said that the Interior Board of Indian Appeals has a backlog because it has only one judge.

He also heard that tribes wanted Public Law 280, which gives the states criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal lands, to be rescinded in order to return jurisdiction and authority back to the tribes. The tribal leaders said they could in turn negotiate memorandums of understanding and agreement with the states and not give up jurisdiction.