Dan K. Thomasson: Uncle Sam still won't play fair with Indians
- From: "Michael (Mickey) Posluns, Ph.D."
If you were setting up an education trust to ensure that your
children would receive an excellent advanced education whatever
might happen to you during their childhoods and adolscence would
you put your money or other assets in the hands of someone whom
you would not trust to go to the store for milk?
The more that I follow the misdeeds of the U.S. B.I.A. and its
Canadian handmaiden, D.I.A.N.D. the more that I am inclined to
think of their conduct as that of recidivists. The Auditor
General of Canada reported, in 1980, that it was not possible to
audit Indian band accounts because the records were so poor that
no opening balance could be found. The government replied by
arguing, in the Guerin case, that there is no legal
responsibility for the Crown to act like a competent trustee.
The Corbell case in the U.S. has shown that Uncle Sam can outdo
the prim little corruptions of CanaDIAND in direct proportion to
its greater wealth. Even in the face of contempt citations
against the Secretary of the Interior and various of her staff
nothing resembling competent behaviour for a trustee is
Note that in Canada when there were a few hundred million dollars
wasted on advertising firms that did no work at all everyone was
up in arms. Yet all of Parliament colluds in the fiction that
when a similar amount of money was devoted to promoting Bob
Nault's First Nations Governance Initiative that this was money
that could fairly be described as being spent on behalf of "the
Indians." Funny. No First Nation received any of the
contracts. No First Nation participating in the farcical
consultations or the later more farcical parliamentary hearings
said that they stood to benefit from the Nault bills.
Dubya Bush is quite prepared to cut off support to Indian tribes
but quite unprepared to rectify the malfeasance that, according
to the judge and master in the Corbell hearings have been the
main activities of the U.S. B.I.A. Yet nobody outside of Indian
country seems to much mind.
One can only suppose that keeping Indian tribes in abject
poverty, making their leadership appear incompetent and corrupt
while the Bush regime continues to plunder ever remaining
resource is a practice, policy and program that is widely
endorsed throughout non-Native America.
Last update: April 11, 2004 at 7:04 PM
Dan K. Thomasson: Uncle Sam still won't play fair with Indians
Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps Howard News Service
April 12, 2004THOMASSON0412
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- No matter who is running the Interior Department -- Republicans, Democrats or a hybrid of both -- they can't seem to get it right with American Indians, leaving one to believe that the nation's integrity got buried at Wounded Knee alongside Crazy Horse's heart.
Ever since the U.S. 7th Cavalry of Custer fame (or infamy, whichever side one is on) massacred a harmless bunch of Ghost Dancers and their women and children at that now-sacred site, officially ending 30 years of armed hostility toward the Indians, the government has maintained a policy of corruption that even the federal courts can't seem to straighten out despite a persistent and valiant effort by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. That unspoken bureaucratic policy seems to be that if it is no longer permissible to shoot the sons and daughters of Sitting Bull, it is at least fair to pick their pockets.
And, brother, that is exactly what has been going on with hundreds of millions of dollars paid for the use of their land undistributed and unaccounted from a Washington trust fund that has been engendering controversy since 1887.
The amount reported in this fund is about $13 billion, but there are substantial allegations that the government has cheated beneficiaries out of as much as $137 billion. No one seems to really know how much.
One court order after another has failed to bring about a clear accounting. Even Lamberth's drastic step of holding more than one official or another, including the last two Interior secretaries, Democrat Bruce Babbitt and Republican Gale Norton, in contempt of court and ultimately appointing his own investigator to look into the mismanagement hasn't been able to produce an audit in which anyone has any faith.
Now it seems Lamberth's investigator, Alan Balaran, has thrown up his hands in disgust and resigned, charging that both the Interior and the Justice departments have been working overtime to thwart his efforts since he came across evidence that the feds have negotiated oil and gas leases on Indian land with private companies that were only a fraction of the rate paid private landowners.
Balaran reported last year that Interior's chief appraiser in New Mexico in particular had repeatedly worked deals for energy companies to pay less than fair market value to the Indians. One incident he cited was a negotiation with a company to compensate the Indians $4.50 a yard for the right to put a pipeline across their land when the company paid private landowners $104 a yard for the same pipeline rights.
His diligence, Balaran alleges, brought the wrath of the Justice Department down on him. He was ordered out of an Interior repository in Dallas where he was trying to review files on audits of gas and oil leases and accused of unethical behavior. That, of course, should surprise no one given the fact the government long has been protecting a Bureau of Indian Affairs that has set a standard for corruption and mismanagement for over a century that is hard to match.
Who's to blame for all this perfidy? The answer probably is nearly every administration since the commanding general of the Army, William Tecumseh Sherman, uttered his startling, then politically correct assessment that the "only good Indian is a dead Indian." How ironic that this should come from a man who bears the name of one of those "savages."
While it would be unfair to attach such ignoble sentiment to the current government or its predecessors for at least the last 100 years, the neglect, hidden behind a policy of benign benevolence, would indicate that deep down it is still hanging around in some bureaucratic quarters.
How else would one explain the refusal to clean up this mess, this injustice? Even after Congress 10 years ago passed the American Indian Trust Reform Management Act requiring the department to account for all the money in the trust fund and the department said it would do so, nothing really much has happened to straighten out what at best can be called incompetence and, at worst, wholesale malfeasance.
In fact, as the result of Balaran's investigation, Lamberth recently ordered Interior to shut down most of its Internet access because of security problems with the fund. It was unsafe from hackers.
It would be easier to believe the official government line that Balaran himself has been unethical and unscrupulous if history wasn't so thoroughly on his side. Lamberth accepted Balaran's resignation with regret.
What is equally regrettable is the seeming inability of any administration to do right by fellow Americans who want nothing more than fair treatment.
© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
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