Native American Press / Ojibwe News

November 8, 2002
Surprise, Surprise!
Bush Administration Drafts Legislation to “Extinguish’ IIM Accounts

By Jean Pagano

The Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts were set up by Congress to pass along trust payments to individual Native peoples instead of paying corrupt Indian Agents. If the Bush Administration has its way, Congress will, in 2003, extinguish the IIM accounts, thereby wiping away the governments 100+ year mismanagement of the Department of Interiors trust responsibility to Native peoples.

The issue of IIMs, forcefully brought to the fore by Cobell v. Secretary of the Interior (Cobell), has illustrated the government’s neglect and mismanagement of nearly $10 billion in Native peoples’ money, held in trust by the U.S Government. Judge Royce Lamberth admonished former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt for the Department’s lack of responsiveness to the Court’s requests. Judge Lamberth has also held current Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton in contempt for a number of issues relating to Cobell and the IIMs.

The issue of the settlement of Cobell v. Secretary of the Interior comes to Judge Lamberth’s courtroom early next year. So far, the Department of Interior has held back information from the Plaintiffs, missed deadlines, allegedly sent out misinformation, and most recently destroyed emails from Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Neal McCaleb office (recently reported here in Press/ON). Things do not look too good for Secretary Norton’s Department and a large number of claims and the billions of dollars to settle these claims may be waiting right around the corner.

Yet, instead of carrying out it trust responsibilities to the Native peoples of this country and to the U.S. District Court, the Department, along with the Bush Administration, is drafting legislation which would derail the settlement vehicle animated by Cobell. The draft seeks to enlist Native peoples to voluntarily accept a cash settlement of their IIM claims in exchange for a waiver of their claims under Cobell. This legislation would allow the establishment of an ‘administrative process’ to resolve and determine the settlement. Additionally, the U.S Government would be released from its duties to collect and deposit funds, make investments and disbursements, keep records and provide an accounting for the IIMs. In other words, all of the mismanagement of this and previous Departments of the Interior would be erased with the passage and acceptance of this act. Once again, Native peoples would be offered a fraction of the true worth of a commodity in lieu of the proper management and payment that was promised and legislated.

The proposed act also invokes the Secretary’s ‘good faith’ in reaching a proposed settlement. Claimants and their heirs would waive any right to current and future claims against the Department concerning IIMs. The Department of the Interior, ordered by the U.S. District Court to undertake an accounting of Interior’s mismanagement of IIMs, has yet to undertake this endeavour. However this proposed legislation states that the settlement proposal ‘shall reflect the Secretary’s good faith belief that because of missing, incomplete, and faulty documentation and other relevant documentation, the account holder’s balance is not readily discernible’ and ‘the Secretary’s good faith belief that that account reconciliation will require a greater period of time and more resources to undertake than it would to provide a reasonable and timely settlement proposal to that account holder.’

Should this proposed act be made into law, then a total and true accounting of what really happened to the monies held in IIMs would never be known. Not only would the truth never be known, but also billions of dollars in trust monies, like millions of acres of reservation land, would be lost forever.



 
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