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Washington in brief

Artman gets long-awaited Senate confirmation

The Senate confirmed Carl Artman as the next assistant secretary for Indian affairs, voting 87 - 1 in his favor March 5.

Artman will fill the top post at the BIA, an agency of the Interior Department. The slot has been vacant for two years following the resignation of Dave Anderson, founder of the ''Famous Dave's'' barbecue restaurant chain. If Anderson, a self-made man who followed his entrepreneurial instincts to off-reservation success against steep odds and personal demons, represented President Bush's first choice in Indians, Artman's career is a study in stable accomplishment. In interviews following his confirmation, he credited his Oneida of Wisconsin tribe for providing him with access to a career in policy formulation. He has also served as congressional staff on Capitol Hill, and leaves his current post as a solicitor within Interior.

Bush nominated him to the post in August 2006, but the Senate didn't take action until now. According to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Artman dedicated himself to personal meetings with senators, during which he overcame most of their concerns. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., cast the only vote against Artman, reputedly over concerns about Artman's position on land into trust applications by tribes planning casino openings. Last year in the 109th Congress, Vitter unsuccessfully proposed a moratorium on tribal casinos.

Bush administration proposes $7 billion to settle Cobell and other trust claims

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has announced its notification in writing of a Bush administration offer to settle all Indian trust mismanagement claims against the government for $7 billion, payable over 10 years. The lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell and an injured class of plaintiffs, the Individual Indian Money beneficiaries, seeks an accounting of IIM funds and has added a lengthy chapter to the already exhaustive anthology of reports, studies, audits and court records charging Interior with ''well over a century of systematic mismanagement of the Indian trust fund accounts,'' to quote from the committee Web site.

Committee Chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., announced the offer March 7 on the Internet at ''This is the first time that the federal government has acknowledged a multibillion-dollar liability for the mismanagement of the Indian trust funds over the past century and more. That is a significant admission.''

But he added, ''The conditions the administration has attached to the settlement offer are going to be very controversial.''

Among them are that all individual and tribal claims against the government for mismanaging the accounts must be dropped. Tribes opposed the condition when it surfaced last year as one of the ''settlement concepts'' put forward informally by the administration. But it comes as no surprise, either: a March 1, 2006, joint hearing on settlement of the SCIA and the House of Representatives Resources Committee featured testimony from Stuart Eizenstat, a former U.S. ambassador best known for helping to settle the property claims of Holocaust survivors in Europe. He urged the assembled lawmakers to settle every item of the Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit through legislation, leaving as little as possible to the courts. ''Legal peace'' will never be possible otherwise, he said, because ''creative lawsuits'' and other claims will continue to crop up.

''Avoid at all costs sending this back to the federal courts ... You cannot have courts settle historical wrongs,'' he advised. ''They're not set up to do that.''

While tribes have so far resisted the comprehensive trust settlement offered by the administration, Cobell and plaintiff attorneys have previously maintained that $8 billion (the figure surfaced at the same time as the informal ''settlement concepts'') is not enough to compensate the losses of IIM beneficiaries.

Dorgan stated on the Web site that he plans to hold a committee hearing on the administration's offer within weeks.

Native Hawaiian bill pulled from House mark-up hearing

A bill that would authorize the first steps in a federal process for recognizing a Native Hawaiian governing entity got pulled from a scheduled mark-up hearing in the House of Representatives March 7.

Patricia Zell, of Zell and Cox Law in Washington, said Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, could not get back to Washington from his district in Hawaii in time for the hearing, and decided to pull the bill from a mark-up session of the House Natural Resources Committee. (Mark-up is Capitol Hill jargon for committee meetings at which bills are reviewed, debated and perhaps amended prior to being voted out of committee, or not, to the consideration of the full House.) Zell said the bill will be re-scheduled for mark-up, possibly in April. She added that Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is preparing to offer a hostile amendment to the bill, possibly in cooperation with Sen. Jon Kyl, also R-Ariz., who led Senate opposition to the so-called ''Akaka Bill'' in the last Congress. The Akaka Bill, after Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is the Senate counterpart of Abercrombie's bill in the House, H.R. 505; it failed last year in the Senate on a procedural vote, following a Republican-orchestrated campaign of public assertions that it sought to establish racial preferences rather than a governing entity for Native Hawaiians.

''We are hearing, as you well know, that the same race-based assault is going to take place against the Indian Health Care Improvement Act,'' Zell said. ''So we assume those concerns have not abated. They've spread to other things.''