Tribal leaders upset over Interior Secretary Gale Norton reshuffling of Indian trust

Thursday, December 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Tribal leaders from across the nation on Thursday told Interior Secretary Gale Norton they're upset the government didn't consult them before deciding to reshuffle billions of dollars in Indian trust assets.

``If you're going to have the trust of the tribes who you're supposed to represent, you must do better than this,'' Ernie L. Stensgar, of the National Congress of American Indians, said during a meeting with Norton.

``We're simply asking to be consulted, not insulted,'' said Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye of Window Rock, Ariz.

At a gathering of the National Congress last week, some 193 tribes adopted a resolution opposing the transfer of trust responsibilities and suggested Norton set up a task force.

In response, Norton said Thursday she'll convene a panel to consider alternatives.

``We are in a position of having to have a proposal for change,'' she said. ``Until we have something to substitute, this is the best we have to offer.''

Thursday's meeting was the first of seven on the proposal to move trust responsibilities from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to a new Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management.

Last month, Norton announced the formation of the new agency to oversee the accounting of $500 million a year in historically mismanaged royalties from Indian land. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had managed the assets but a federal court ordered the system reformed.

The Bush administration wants the BIA to handle education, social programs and law enforcement, and the new agency to handle natural resources and minerals and the trust assets.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth opened contempt hearings for Norton and Neal McCaleb, assistant secretary for Indian affairs. A lawyer for the tribes has accused them of misleading the judge about efforts to fix a century of mismanaged Indian trust funds.