Tribal workgroups scrutinize trust management, consultation

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - From across the country, tribal leaders coverged on the capital to discuss proposed regulations on trust funds management and the federal governments policy on government-to-government consultation.

The March 27 and 28 meetings are part of a continuing series of workgroups focused on various federal policy categories, including: trust management policy and procedures, government-to-government consultation and data management, needs assessment, and auditing. The meetings are organized by the Department of Interior and the National Congress of American Indians.

They are open to all tribal governments and seek to include an elected tribal leader or delegate and alternate from each of the BIA regions.

On the first day discussion focused on proposed new draft regulations on trust management by the Department of Interior, a part of the department's High Level Implementation Plan to inventory and revise regulations.. The stated goal is to advise and assist the department in drafting the regulations.

Organizers said the process involves technical policy on trust funds management and leasing, as well as important questions about the nature of the trust obligation to tribal and individual beneficiaries. Special Trustee Nominee, Thomas Slonaker attended the meeting to meet tribal leaders and learn of their concerns.

The government may not go along with our recommendations, because it may hurt them in court, but we need to get on the record, said Chief Charles Tillman of the Osage Nation and chairman of the Trust Management Workgroup. They might not like what we come up with, but its the right thing to do.

Initial response to the draft regulations was that they generally incorporate language which offers a standard of responsibility far below that legally required by a trustee; in this case, the federal government. Tribal leaders expressed concern that this would threaten management of tribal and individual assets, violating the trust responsibility and the intent of Congress under the 1994 American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act.

Throughout a second day, participants explored recommendations on the BIAs development of a new consultation policy, as well as comments on a redraft of the Presidents Executive Order on Government-to-Government Consultation.

Tribal leaders voiced their hope this effort would lead to a true definition of consultation, with principles and guidelines which fully incorporate perspectives held by tribes. However, they voiced frustration with past and current policies.

As part of their recommendation, tribal leaders propose a definition of consultation which involves an inter-governmental dialogue between the federal government and tribes in a manner intended to secure meaningful and timely tribal input and or involvement in the decision making process.

W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'klallam Tribe of Washington state and chairman of the Consultation Workgroup, said that it hopes to complete draft comments and recommendations in three to four months before distribution to tribes for comments. Once we get a draft were comfortable with, well then send it out to Indian country.

Each Workgroup will meet with representatives of the White House and the administration throughout the coming months. In calling for the formation of the workgroups, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Gover cited the effectiveness of working with tribal leaders in analyzing issues from a tribal government perspective and working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to propose solutions that promote tribal self-government.