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Washington in brief

Senate passes Heritage Day resolution

The Senate on Sept. 22 passed House Joint Resolution 62, designating the day after Thanksgiving – Nov. 28, 2008 – as Native American Heritage Day.

The resolution now goes back to the House of Representatives, which passed the original version in 2007. But it has been amended on minor points in the Senate, meaning the House must pass the identical amended version before it can become law.

The National Indian Gaming Association, among others in Indian country, has pushed for the resolution as an opportunity to inject Indians into a holiday that is dominated by Pilgrim history. A companion report on the resolution, Senate Report 110-435, states in part: “It is hoped that passage of H.J. Res. 62 will encourage the American public’s interest in the history and contributions of Native Americans and inspire Native Americans of all ages to celebrate the great achievements of their ancestors and heroes.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., has 84 cosponsors.

Government appeals $455.6 million decision in Cobell

After arguing for years that statistical sampling provides valid proof of receipts in Individual Indian Money accounts, federal attorneys now argue otherwise in appealing an award of $455.6 million to the injured class of IIM beneficiaries.

“The court decided to award ‘restitution’ to the class based on a statistically possible but unproven ‘shortfall’ between receipts and disbursements over the 121-year lifetime of the trusts,” the Department of Justice attorney team stated in a Sept. 18 appeal.

The loss of historical IIM documents on the Interior Department’s watch led to federal reliance on statistical sampling of intact records. U.S. District Judge James Robertson ultimately ruled the results of the sampling approach admissible as evidence of funds in the accounts.

DoJ solicitors now argue that statistical results prove nothing when it comes to proving a “shortfall” in the accounts.

Appealing for termination of the case, they contend that Robertson had no basis for continuing jurisdiction in the case once he ruled a full accounting impossible. That decision came down in January. In August, Robertson awarded the $455.6 million restitution, reasoning that a 1994 reform act of Congress had not adequately funded the IIM accounting it called for. The 1994 reform law underlay the lawsuit for an accounting, filed in 1996 and in the courts ever since.

“The district court could not properly transform the 1994 act into a mandate for the payment of money by declaring that its actual mandate is impossible to perform,” stated the government appeal.

The injured class of plaintiffs has also appealed Robertson’s ruling on grounds it took too lenient a view of the government’s fiduciary obligations as trustee of the IIM accounts.

Room at the top for Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

It’s official, announced Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.: the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has a new hearing room: number 628, on the top floor of the Senate Dirksen Office Building.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the committee for 18 years when it met in the more cramped quarters of Senate Russell Room 485 (Dirksen 628 is cavernous by comparison), raised a chuckle by congratulating his successor on “negotiating and acquiring this hearing room.”

Dorgan thanked Inouye for his own long leadership of the committee. “We will, as was the case with the Russell hearing room, at some point have a ceremony that can provide a new blessing for the deliberations that occur in this room.”