WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a letter to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, Chairman Frank H. Murkowski and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, wrote they were "profoundly disturbed by what appears to be concerted action by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to actively generate public opposition to one of our legislative proposals now pending before the Committee on Indian affairs."
The letter by the two senators refers to a July 8, 1999, BIA letter to the Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation misrepresenting both the intent and the effect of the Murkowski/Campbell legislation, S. 739. The BIA letter to the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe from the Superintendent of BIA, Robert D. Ecoffey, states: "This bill is proposing that all of the Tribe's trust funds including the Black Hills Settlement Claims monies be taken out of the U.S. Treasury and be contracted to various other commercial banks. If no action is taken by the Tribe, it would imply that the Tribe accepted the money." They are cautioning this could be interpreted as an acceptance of the settlement and an end to claims to the Black Hills. Several tribes want the Black Hills of South Dakota returned to them and have refused to accept a government financial settlement that exceeds $600 million.
S. 739 does not do anything to that claim. It simply allows the withdrawal of Indian trust funds to earn better interest rates in financial institutions designated by the Tribes. It in no way implies acceptance of a settlement for the Black Hills.
"This (BIA) letter is not only misleading and at times patently false, but runs afoul of the congressional prohibition against using federal appropriations for lobbying activities. Section 303 of the FY 1999 Omnibus Consolidate and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act contains the prohibition that states that:
(n)o part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be available for any activity or the publication or distribution of literature that in any way tends to promote public support of opposition to any legislative proposal on which congressional action is not complete," the Senators wrote Babbitt."
Disregard for this prohibition is obvious in a quotation from the BIA Aberdeen area director Cora Jones, who is quoted in Indian Country Today: "It's a valid concern. Start writing to Congress to stop this particular bill and ask specifically to exclude the Black Hills." In addition Superintendent Ecoffey, in his letter states, "Please share this information with the voting population within your respective districts."
Senators Campbell and Murkowski concluded their letter to Babbitt by letting him know copies of the relevant letters would be sent to the Department's Acting Inspector General for his review.