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Action plan on Fort Berthold oil development due July 7

A detailed action plan to improve oil development on the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota, due from Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to Sen. Byron Dorgan by July 7, has been received and is under consideration with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, according to a Dorgan spokesman.

The North Dakota Democrat has scoured the BIA, a subordinate agency of Interior, with criticism at recent hearings of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which he chairs. Concerning the energy development prospects of all tribes that seek it, he has called the BIA ''incompetent'' and worse, and has speculated about shutting it down and starting over from scratch. He has repeatedly belabored the bureau, and by extension Interior, for mismanagement, staffing vacancies, lily-livered funding requests in the face of crisis-like unmet needs, and de facto oppressive regulatory policies for tribes in comparison with off-reservation processes that move at much nearer the actual speed of business.

A June 20 meeting with Kempthorne was ''just a start'' on energy development at Fort Berthold, according to statements by Dorgan in a committee release.

''The Fort Berthold reservation is sitting on top of the largest oil reserve in the lower 48 states,'' the Bakken Shale Formation. But despite oil production to the north, west and south of reservation borders, Dorgan added, ''only one well is being drilled on the reservation.'' He called it an outrage that residents of the region and reservation can't take advantage of an economic opportunity. And tribal land could be contributing more to the national energy supply, he noted.

He said he will continue working with Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Wells Jr. ''to push the BIA until they get their house in order.''

Johnson, Thune stand out for South Dakota tribes

With South Dakota's unaccustomed significance in the Democratic presidential primary in the history books, and a potential role in the presidential race itself looming on the horizon, Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune have stepped up their outreach to South Dakota tribes.

The Indian vote has become a significant factor in the state. Johnson acknowledges owing his Senate seat to the Indian vote.

Johnson, a Democrat, and Thune of the GOP, along with Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth in the House of Representatives, boast track records of significant support for tribes, with Johnson perhaps enjoying an edge here if only from longevity in Congress - which he has parlayed into a post on the influential Senate Appropriations Committee.

In any case, both senators have recently issued a spate of Indian-specific press releases.

Johnson has placed tribal law enforcement projects worth $3.85 million in the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill for fiscal year 2009, beginning Oct. 1. The bill passed the ''Approps'' Committee and is now before the full Senate. It faces many next steps and undoubted modification before it can become law, but Johnson vows to defend the funding level for each Indian-specific project.

On the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Johnson has also shepherded bills to upgrade a river-fed irrigation system for the downstream benefit of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and to compensate the Lower Brule and Crow Creek tribes for losses related to the flooding of their homelands by federal dam construction on the Missouri River.

Johnson has also participated in the drafting of legislation to reform law enforcement in Indian country, and posed questions at a June 19 hearing on the draft bill - as has Thune, on both counts.

Thune first announced Treasury Department grants to Native Community Development Financial Institutions, issuing separate releases on First Nations Oweesta Corporation in Rapid City, S.D., encouraging small business and economic development, as well as home ownership, across Indian country; Four Bands Community Fund Inc. in Eagle Butte, S.D., assisting small businesses of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; and the Lakota Fund in Kyle, S.D., expanding economic opportunity and affordable housing on the Oglala Lakota homelands.