The National Congress of American Indians
TITLE: Requesting an Immediate Suspension of Any “Consolidation Plan” For the Office of Hearings and Appeals, Probate Hearings Division in the Department of the Interior
WHEREAS, we, the members of the National Congress of American Indians of the United States, invoking the divine blessing of the Creator upon our efforts and purposes, in order to preserve for ourselves and our descendants the inherent sovereign rights of our Indian nations, rights secured under Indian treaties and agreements with the United States, and all other rights and benefits to which we are entitled under the laws and Constitution of the United States, to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian people, to preserve Indian cultural values, and otherwise promote the health, safety and welfare of the Indian people, do hereby establish and submit the following resolution; and
WHEREAS, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) was established in 1944 and is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments; and
WHEREAS, on April 9, 2014, Judge Earl J. Waits issued a memorandum announcing the realignment of the Probate Hearings Division (PHD) within the Department of Interior (DOI), Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA); and
WHEREAS, the week before his departure Deputy Assistant Secretary Andrew Jackson approved a plan to consolidate the OHA, PHD organization by closing three field offices i.e., Bloomington MN, Phoenix AZ, and Portland, OR; and
WHEREAS, the process requires a minimum of 60 days in accordance with 5CFR Part 351; and
WHEREAS, on the plan to consolidate although approved at the Department level no final decisions have been made until consultation with the Tribes is completed in 30-60 days; and
WHEREAS, if the consolidation plan is approved and becomes final, subsequent implementation would take 90-120 days; and
WHEREAS, offices may close in late June or July, 2014; and
WHEREAS, on April 9, 2014 a memorandum was issued announcing the OHA, PHD realignment to the Office of Special Trustee (OST) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Division of Probate and Estate Services; and
WHEREAS, on May 6, 2014 Earl J. Waits, Chief Administrative Law Judge, Office of Hearings & Appeals, presented the proposal on Realignment of OHA, PHD to Tribes; and
WHEREAS, neither of the Federal actions taken contain sufficient information to understand or analyze the impacts on Tribes and tribal members; and
WHEREAS, Tribes have raised concerns for decades to DOI about Probate backlog, yet it is probable that the realignment of OHA, PHD will further delay resolution of these problems, thereby continuing to deprive our tribal members of use and protections of their trust assets; and
WHEREAS, recommendations were included in the DOI Trust Reform Commission’s 2013 report to consider realigning federal probate hearings and associated agreements into tribal agreements and tribal courts as a positive way of addressing staffing, funding, and perpetual delays in completing Indian probates; and
WHEREAS, no meaningful tribal consultation has been afforded to Tribes regarding the realignment of OHA, PHD despite the fact such realignment will have a direct negative impact on Tribes and tribal members.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that NCAI does hereby request an immediate suspension of any “consolidation plan” approved by the Department until such time meaningful consultation with Tribes has occurred; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NCAI requests that any realignment or consolidation plan for the Office of Hearings and Appeals, Probate Hearings Division include proposals to consolidate functions and associated activities into tribal agreements and tribal courts; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that this resolution shall be the policy of NCAI until it is withdrawn or modified by subsequent resolution.
The foregoing resolution was adopted by the General Assembly at the 2014 Mid-Year Session of the National Congress of American Indians, held at the Dena'ina Civic & Convention Center, June 8-11, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska, with a quorum present.