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Oklahoma caller questions three cabinet members

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WASHINGTON - An anonymous caller from Oklahoma's Indian country scored a journalistic coup on the morning of March 5, questioning three members of the Bush cabinet about their relations with tribal governments.

The three, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Todd Whitman, were making a joint appearance on the C-Span morning call-in show, discussing their overlapping jurisdictions.

EPA Administrator Whitman, a former governor of New Jersey, carried the ball on the answer. She affirmed the "government-to-government" relation with sovereign tribes. Her agency, she said, was committed to providing technical support to tribal environmental programs. "Many tribes work without technical experts," she said. "We provide expertise to deal with environmental issues."

"We do a lot," she said.

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Norton acknowledged the pervasive role of her department, which includes the BIA, but focused on a program to protect the environment on Indian reservations. She said it sought to preserve tribal natural resources in accord with cultural values. She yielded quickly to Whitman.

Agriculture Secretary Veneman didn't make a substantive answer but gave out the department Web site as a source for further information.

One other caller raised an Indian issue. A local activist from Madera County, Calif., complained that government studies on a large Indian casino in construction for his town were suppressing information on traffic patterns. (The caller was apparently referring to the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino planned by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and expected to open on June 24.) He said he had learned that an agreement between the tribe and the county government would route the incoming automobiles through his street.