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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S 1459

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Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. MCCAIN (for himself, Mr. DASCHLE, and Mr. JOHNSON):

    S. 1459. A bill to provide for reform of management of Indian trust funds and assets under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

    Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, I rise to introduce legislation to serve as the basis for much needed reforms to the Federal Government's management of Indian trust funds and trust assets within the U.S. Department of the Interior. I am joined by my colleagues, Senators DASCHLE and JOHNSON, in this effort, as well as by Representatives MARK UDALL and NICK RAHALL whom are sponsoring a companion measure in the House of Representatives.

    This legislation is a reflection of a continuing effort by my colleagues and myself to develop a trust reform proposal that will not only serve to improve the Federal Government's administration and management of Indian trust funds and trust assets but it will also institute a role for Indian tribes to participate in developing additional needed reforms and enhance the principles of tribal self-determination.

    Earlier this year, Senators DASCHLE, JOHNSON, and myself introduced similar trust reform legislation and received substantive feedback from Indian country on the bill. This feedback helped us in developing this new legislative proposal, which will serve as the framework for instituting broader reforms necessary for long-term management of tribal trust resources and enhancing Federal Indian policy. I thank the tribes and tribal organizations such as the Inter Tribal Monitoring Association, the Native American Rights Fund, and the National Congress of American Indians, which worked with our offices and helped to formulate the concepts embodied in this proposal. We are encouraged by their efforts and support to seek a legislative remedy to these difficult problems.

    The basic elements of this bill focus on three primary areas: the management of trust funds and trust assets will be elevated in the overall Department by designating a Deputy Secretary of Indian Affairs to assume the current responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs and the Special Trustee. Second, as determined by the court and the administration, it is Congress' duty to affirm fiduciary standards for proper management of these trust funds and trust assets, and this bill includes such standards. And, third, the role of the tribes is enhanced through affirmation of the authority of tribes to utilize self-determination laws to manage their own funds and assets. Tribes will also be engaged in determining additional necessary reforms through participation in an established congressional commission.

    The mismanagement of Indian trust funds is a long and disgraceful chapter in the history of this Nation. The 1994 American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act was enacted to take measures to reconcile these accounts and return the money to the Native American beneficiaries. Unfortunately, as continuing management problems persist and Native Americans are left out of the decision-making process about the management of their resources, it is time for Congress to step up and take decisive action to once again require significant reform with the active participation of the tribes.

    I am pleased that Senators DASCHLE and JOHNSON are committed to working with me once again on this legislation, and I am also encouraged by the interest of our House counterparts to jointly introduce this bill with us. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the tribes to advance this legislation. We are willing to consider additional review and comments and expect to further refine this bill as it moves through the legislative process.

    I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

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