RAPID CITY, S.D. ? After weeks of lambasting the BIA and its trust fund proposals, tribal leaders are regrouping to see if they can come up with a better idea.
A debate is already emerging on new ideas for administering the BIA's imploding trust account function while maintaining its other services.
Outlines of the discussion emerged in the aftermath of the fourth of the 11 scheduled "consultation" meetings on the BIA reorganization plan, convened here at the Holiday Inn Rushmore Plaza. It drew the largest crowd and was alleged to be the most contentious by some who have attended all of the meetings. But it was also the first in which alternatives were presented to the trust account spin-off proposed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Tribal officials argued that the tribes and the BIA at the agency level can manage the trust funds better than another agency or the BIA trust funds office.
"Let us create a model we can live with, ourselves. We oppose any plan that has a reduction in funding," said Alvin Windy Boy. "When that young mother needs Pampers give us that ($300 million)."
The tribes at previous meetings gave a resounding no to the creation of a Bureau of Indian Trust Asset Management (BITAM), to take over the Individual Indian Monies (IIM) accounts and other BIA trust accounts.
Not only were the tribes in unison against the plan, they informed Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb that they didn't like the person chosen to head the new agency, former BIA head Ross Swimmer. Tribal leaders said Swimmer's history with the government was an attempt to dismantle the BIA and not improve it.
But the unity broke down as different tribes proposed alternatives. The next phase, all agreed, was formation of a task force chosen by tribes to study the ideas emerging in the rest of the consultations.
The Task Force
The task force will consist of 24 members, two from each of the regions. The members will be chosen by the tribes in each of the 12 regions. The task force will be an association of the governments of the sovereign tribes and nations.
It will collect information from the tribes and organizations and present an alternative plan to the Interior Department.
A number of tribal organizations will provide technical support to the task force. Mentioned so far were the National Congress of American Indians, Mni Sose, Northwest Fisheries and the Intertribal Monitoring Association.
Tex Hall, president of the NCAI, said the task force could take from a few weeks to a year and a half to come up with a plan backed by the consensus of the tribes and acceptable to the administration.
Differences at the meeting arose over the proposed membership of the task force. Some organizations that represent landowners or other groups on reservations were not included as technical support groups. But Hall said the list is not complete and will grow as the task force gets organized.
One of the most contested features of the task force project was McCaleb's offer to use BIA funds to pay for travel and expenses for its members.
Gregg Bourland, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, strongly opposed that offer. He said that 20 years ago the BIA paid for tribal leaders in a similar situation when McCaleb was part of a committee to reorganize the BIA.
"This was under Dr. Eddie Brown. Three tribal members were paid. We watched them rubber stamp document after document for the secretary," Bourland said.
McCaleb said the offer was to help those tribes with few resources send their delegates to the meetings.
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe brought alternative plans to the table.
The CRST plan backed by Bourland suggested bringing the Office of Trust Fund Management and the Minerals Management Services under the BIA and consolidating all of the activities under the existing Director of Trust within the BIA.
It suggested allowing the tribes input into the architecture of the High Level Implementation Plan (HLIP), a plan that had been shelved for some time after about 10 years of work. The Cheyenne River Tribal Council recommended implementing the revised HLIP under the newly consolidated trust management program. The HLIP was put forward by the special trustee as a new plan for trust management.
"Revise this plan that was years in the development and implement it. Then the BIA doesn't have to be dismantled," said Bourland.
"Tell Norton there are alternatives. Then march to the drum of Native America and not to Gale Norton's drum," he said.
The plan included two controversial components, the Trust Fund Accounting System and the Trust Asset Accounting Management System.
The plan also asked funding from Congress to make any reorganization successful.
Another plan, submitted by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, asked that a full cabinet level office be created for Indian Affairs.
"The treaty is the foundation of trust in government. The Secretary is reforming a trust. We propose a more sweeping change to a Department of Indian Affairs at the cabinet level," said Johnson Holy Rock, fifth member of the Oglala executive council.
He said the new department would insure that what is owed to the Individual Indian accounts and the tribes would be paid. It would also manage more efficient management of policies and activities between the federal government and tribes, Holy Rock said.
"Creating the Department at the Cabinet level would reaffirm the separate and sovereign status of Indian tribes, consolidate the authorities of the United States into one prime agency for the trustee, and remove conflicts of interest currently faced by the Secretary of the Interior in administering Interior policy and programs," a printed proposal stated.
The OST plan would maintain the usual offices of the department; General Counsel, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Office of Rights Protection, Judicial, Economic Development, Office of Trust Funds and others.
Attendees at the Rapid City consultation meeting supported both of the alternative plans. The two will be given to the task force for consideration.
Bourland also circulated his plan to the press and other tribal councils, complaining that the Great Plains Region Chairman's Association had not adopted it.
The Rapid City Meeting
Meanwhile participants at the Rapid City meeting continued the theme that the sessions were not true consultations.
"This is the third of these sessions I have attended and I feel like a McCaleb groupie," said Michael Jandreau of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
"At each one of these sessions you (McCaleb) heard the same thing. You've heard the opposition; you've heard the individuals who are going to give plans and how the reorganization should happen.
"You have heard the ideals of victimization. The difference is that we victims want an opportunity to develop a bureau that really works for us. As individuals working for an agency you have a responsibility and part of your responsibility is being chastised here today.
"You are not the problem. The real problem is how effective we are in developing these plans that have been put forth to you and supporting these plans to the highest level possible."
Jandreau said if the tribes don't get together with the bureau and put together plans that work and are able to sell to the government, all of the talk will be hollow.
"We can be very vocal, very strong in what we say, but the practicality is that we must do and put together what we want and support one another in making it work," Jandreau said.
Opposition to the BITAM among the Great Plains tribes was strong and at times harsh. McCaleb sat on the dais taking the barrage of criticism and suggestions.
At each of the four meetings he heard the same opposition to the plan. Tribes do not want more separation in the BIA. The trust funds management office should be run from under the BIA and each agency must have the records where people can easily find out the status of their leases, tribal leaders said.
Getting through to the BIA and Interior is like disciplining children when you continue to tell them not to do something, said John Black Hawk, chairman of the Winnebago Tribe. "When are you going to get it?
"I have heard, I don't know this for a fact, but Neal I have heard you have a difficult time not responding to things that are said. I would like to ask a few questions - you don't have to respond," Black Hawk said.
"We talked about Mr. Swimmer. I know you have worked with him in the past and he is a friend of yours and he has been a part of this team that was created. I would like to know how you take the message back, as an advocate for Indian people, I am curious about that? And, what is the threshold, how many tribes have to say no, do half the tribes have to say no before it is no, or is it 75 percent or 90 percent or 100 percent?" Blackhawk said.
McCaleb assured the gathering that it was being heard. "The message is clear, the Secretary heard it in Albuquerque, and there was very little doubt in her mind what the proposed plan was. She is anxious to hear an alternative plan and what is useful today is there are alternative plans laid on the table.
"What was said here today is not turned over to me, the comments will be given to the Secretary, but what is important is who will work with those in the task force composed of tribal leaders," McCaleb said.
"One of the things that came through very clearly in Albuquerque and at every meeting since then in addition to the fact that there is no acceptance of the plan as proposed was that there needed to be a change. It's not entirely productive to say we are against the original plan. What we need is what happened today is for some alternative plans to be put on the table," he said.
The proposed plan would require $300 million for implementation. The Senate Appropriations Committee froze that funding until an alternative plan and proper consultations are completed. The cost is also an issue with tribal leaders. There are many needs for that kind of money in Indian country, like help with a major short-fall in health care, education and housing.
"You are going to take dollars from programs we have in place and transfer them to a new department," said Tom Ranfranz, chairman of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. "I've never heard of anything so crazy. It's created huge hardships. This reorganization is not just one of our concerns, we have concerns in health care, we have concerns in housing, and we have concerns in education.
"This is just one issue. We are talking today about reorganization, but we have a lot of problems here in Indian country."