Tribal Leader to Feds - Let Us Manage Our Own Money

By Tom Bacon

Long-time Coeur d' Alene Indian tribe leader Ernie Stensgar thinks it's time to take away control of Native American trust funds from the federal government and let tribes handle the money. Stensgar, who is now chair of the Trust Reform Committee of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, has some powerful allies in his quest to control more than $4.5-billion in money held in trust for Indians - the entire Idaho congressional delegation.

Stensgar testified before the US House Natural Resources Committee that tribes are better able to manage their own affairs than the federal government. The bill he's pushing, written by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, would allow a native american tribe to set up a demonstration trust project that could function without Bureau of Indian Affairs oversight. 

But the bill ran into headwinds from the director of the bureau, Michael S. Black. He told committee Chair Doc Hastings of Washington that turning over control of the huge trust fund wipes out responsibility for possible mismanagement of the money. That, he said, would leave taxpayers on the hook for liability claims.

Additionally, Black noted that the bill would eliminate the autonomous Office of Special Trustee, set up to manage trust money after a class action suit resulted in reform of a mish-mash of incompatible accounting systems and lax management. He fears the restructuring would allow more political tinkering with the trust fund.

Stensgar, however, said the 57 affiliated tribes he represents are committed to maintaining the integrity of the trust funds.

The trust funds in question amount to billions of dollars - more than $4.5-billion right now.
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