U.S. official fired for criticizing Native policy
- If you are a bureaucrat and want to keep your career, the last thing you want
to do is start telling the truth. The following article, attributed to
Robert Gehrke of the Associated Press, appeared on page A11 of the Thursday,
September 18, 2003 edition of The Arizona Republic.
INTERIOR OFFICIAL SAYS U.S. CHEATED NAVAJOS, IS FIRED
Washington--The Interior Department has fired an employee who told a court
investigator that the department was failing in its duty to protect the
Navajos from being cheated by oil and gas companies.
Kevin Gambrell, who had been head of the Farmington, New Mexico, Indian
Minerals Office since 1996, said he protested for six years that Navajo
landowners were not receiving fair compensation for the use of their land, but
he was ignored.
This year, he contacted Alan Balaran, an investigator appointed by a federal
judge presiding in a class-action lawsuit against the Interior Department.
The suit alleges that the department has mismanaged Indian money for more
than a century.
Balaran filed a report last month that said private landowners near the
sprawling Navajo Reservation were paid, in some cases, twenty times what the
Indians were being paid.
He said those discrepancies and the destruction of records related to the
deals had constituted a failure by the Interior Department to meet its
legal obligation to Indian landowners to ensure a fair payment for the use
of their land.
In May, the department put Gambrell on paid administrative leave, saying he
had destroyed documents and was insubordinate. On Monday, the department
formally fired him.
"It was just an excuse to get rid of me," Gambrell said. "It's very unfair
A spokesman for the Interior Department said he could not comment on
"Kevin Gambrell's career difficulties started the moment his phone records
showing contact with the Special Master (Balaran) were discovered," said
Dan Meyer, general counsel for the Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility. "Given Interior's sorry track record in this area, they
would be far better served promoting Kevin Gambrell than firing him."
Gambrell has filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board and
has notified the judge in the Indian money case, U.S. District Judge Royce
Lamberth, of his termination.
Gambrell said for years the Indians have been told by oil and gas companies
to sign blank leases to build pipelines across their land and the companies
would fill in the lease rates later.