I may not be a fan of George Bush's foreign policy, but I fully agree with one point the president repeatedly made in the months before the Iraq war. The president told us that "sometimes you have to fight."
As Mr. Bush
explained, when the other guy just doesn't get it, he needs a punch
in the stomach.
That's just the way a group of American
Indians have been feeling for almost seven years in a federal court
in Washington. We've been punching away at Uncle Sam, determined to
get a full accounting of the monies that the federal government
should have been placing in trust accounts for us for more than 116
Billions of dollars -- money that belongs to some
of the nation's poorest people -- have been diverted or lost from
our accounts. After repeated victories in the courts, we're getting
close to securing that accounting. But to our surprise, some
lawmakers in the nation's capital are now demanding we settle our
dispute with the federal government outside the courtroom.
In an April 6 letter to our lawyers and Interior
Secretary Gale Norton and Attorney General John Ashcroft, Sens. Ben
Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., and Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, urged
us to seek mediation.
But the truth is, we've tried to
reach an out-of-court settlement with the government before, and
failed. The Bush administration's negotiators have refused to be
realistic about what it will take to make our accounts whole. So
our battle continues in the federal courts in Washington.
I was back in Courtroom 21 recently, sitting in for the latest
phase of our long-running lawsuit. I left fighting mad.
Paul M. Homan, a nationally recognized banking expert, was to
testify about the weaknesses in the government's plan to reform the
badly broken Indian trust system. There's no doubt that Homan, the
former president of a major bank in Washington, knows what he is
talking about when it comes to trust operations. He was the chief
examiner of federal banks for the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency
He personally supervised the closing of 22
national banks when they became insolvent, and when he left
government service, he supervised the rehabilitation of several
large banks that were teetering on the brink of failure.
Equally important, he was the first person named special trustee
for the Indian trust accounts, overseeing the Interior Department's
handling of the accounts for nearly three years. President Bill
Clinton selected him to handle that job, and he did it with such
candor that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt finally fired him.
Now, you'd think that Homan would be just the expert that
a Republican administration favored to talk about the ills in the
Indian trust accounts. But no, the Bush administration's Justice
Department did everything it could to disqualify Homan from
testifying as the expert witness he clearly is.
Judge Royce Lamberth rejected those arguments, the government
continued to question every statement Homan made about the problems
of the trust.
Homan proved a powerful witness, describing
the administration's plans to resolve the trust problems as "a
waste of time." Instead of trying once again to repair the present
system, Homan advocated moving the trust operations out of the
Interior Department and placing them under a court-appointed
The flap over Homan's testimony llustrates why
our 6-year fight over Indian trust reform is a battle worth
fighting. We're tired of having federal officials, whether
Democrats or Republicans, attempt to silence those who would tell
the truth about the horrible job that the federal government has
done taking care of our money.
As both Sens. Campbell and
Inouye put it in their letter: "Since at least the late1980s, the
Congress, the Executive and the Indian tribes have understood that
the Indian trust system is broken and badly in need of repair."
Note their words: Congress and the Executive, Democratic
and Republican administrations -- all have failed Indian
trust-account holders. All we have ever wanted is what a federal
judge and a federal appeals court have said we are entitled to: a
full accounting of our money.
It's hardly a novel or a
radical idea. It's what every bank and every trust company in the
nation has to give its clients. When the children of America's
first citizens cannot get such a basic request, then something is
wrong with our government.
As President Bush should
understand: That’s why we fight.