Plains tribes concerned over planned BIA reshuffle

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Prior to a flurry of consultation meetings across the country that deal with another BIA reorganization plan, Great Plains tribal leaders want more information before the area meeting.

BIA Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Carl Artman was to have attended the United Tribes Intertribal Summit Sept. 4 to explain some of the workings of the new reorganization plan. Artman, however, was called away and did not attend the summit.

Michael Selvage, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, compared the reorganization plan to ''rearranging the furniture on the Titanic.''

He said the concerns tribes have with the bureau are real, such as inadequate police staffing, little or no road funding, and its encouragement for tribes to enter into memorandums of agreement with counties.

''We are dealing with counties who hate us and it's almost impossible to deal with them,'' he said.

In place of Artman, Ron His Horse Is Thunder, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, took over the allotted time to offer his and other tribal leaders' assessment of the consultation and reorganization process.

Leaders of Plains tribes have a history of skepticism over any consultation meetings with the BIA and have a special distaste for any talk of reorganization. Past consultations that dealt with reorganization were not productive, and the Department of the Interior imposed plans that had been put forward without accepting the tribal leaders' suggestions.

A task force that met for nearly a year ended with Interior moving to reorganize in spite of objections from the Great Plains and other large land-based tribes.

Artman indicated the reason for the reorganization was the future retirement of BIA employees that will take knowledge with them and that budgets were tight, according to His Horse Is Thunder.

''That's not news to us,'' His Horse Is Thunder said.

Another reason for reorganization is technology.

''Yes, we could work more collaboratively. Give us more information before we get to the meetings,'' His Horse Is Thunder said.

He said if the BIA and tribes sit down for six hours the tribal leaders need more information.

''We want to know what they are thinking about before they get to the meeting,'' he said.

His Horse Is Thunder said that the government should support tribal colleges instead of zeroing them out of budgets. The tribal colleges are where the next employees come from; they are connected to the reservations and know the needs of those reservations.

''If they want to replace people, what better place than our tribal colleges,'' His Horse Is Thunder said.

Tribes are now learning how to work around the BIA to complete projects, such as roads. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe worked with the Department of Transportation and received three times the amount of money the BIA budgeted for roads.

''We have to work with other agencies, but we are not willing to relieve the BIA of its responsibility. They are not adequate, but don't relieve them of their trust responsibility,'' he said.

Selvage said some tribes with gaming money fund programs that the BIA has a responsibility for, but where there are no BIA funds, monies have to be drawn from the gaming funds in order to provide services.

''We need ideas on how to pressure the BIA to fund adequately,'' Selvage said.