The National Congress of American Indians
TITLE: Supporting Trust Asset Modernization Legislation
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, the United States’ fiduciary responsibilities to Indians are founded on the settled law of nations, an inherent presupposition of our constitutional structure, and commitments in treaties and written agreements securing peace in exchange for vast tracts of land; and
WHEREAS, the foregoing historic federal-tribal relations and understandings have benefitted all people of the United States for centuries and established enduring obligations to which the national honor has been committed; and
WHEREAS, the United States has assumed enforceable trust responsibilities over lands and resources held by the United States in trust for Tribal Nations and Tribal citizens even if nothing is said expressly in the governing statutes or regulations, and the most exacting common-law fiduciary standards should govern such federal management of Indian trust assets; and
WHEREAS, the United States’ fiduciary responsibilities to Indian tribes include and are not limited by a duty to promote tribal self-determination, and the fact that the United States may simultaneously perform another task for another interest that Congress has obligated it by statute to do does not compromise or limit the United States’ enforceable fiduciary obligations to Indians; and
WHEREAS, notwithstanding the established law and policy during the Self-Determination Era, employees of the Executive Branch during this period have repeatedly sought to avoid, limit, and repudiate federal trust duties; and
WHEREAS, the American Indian Trust Funds Reform Act of 1994 temporarily created the Office of the Special Trustee, an agency within the Department of Interior that is wholly separate from the Bureau of Indian Affairs but that, over time, has come to perform certain functions and activities historically performed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and
WHEREAS, the creation of a bureaucracy within the Office of the Special Trustee to handle Indian trust assets has resulted in confusion and delays in processing trust transactions, with insufficient oversight by the beneficiary Tribal Nations and Tribal citizens; and
WHEREAS, there is no longer a need or reason to have the Office of the Special Trustee as an agency within the Department of Interior that is separate and distinct from the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and
WHEREAS, while the Office of the Special Trustee has implemented positive reforms in the past 10 years, the position of Special Trustee for American Indians has been vacant for approximately 5 and ½ years; and
WHEREAS, NCAI and many Tribal Nations and citizens have continued to advocate for meaningful administrative and congressional trust reform to help ensure that the Executive Branch fully meets all trust obligations of the United States as trustee to Indians; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of the Interior has established a temporary trust commission to evaluate the Department’s management and administration of Indian trust assets, and to make recommendations to improve the federal Indian trust administration system, including regarding termination of the Office of the Special Trustee and whether any legislative or regulatory changes are necessary to permanently implement improvements and to prevent future trust mismanagement; and
WHEREAS, the Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform issued a report in December of 2013, setting forth numerous recommendations regarding the administration of Indian trust assets that require further study, review and discussion within Indian Country; and
WHEREAS, there is widespread recognition and agreement among Indian tribes that any proposal to modernize or reform the administration of Indian trust assets should include options and opportunities for Indian tribal governments to make trust management decisions themselves as well as modernization of existing trust laws, regulations, policies and practices that restrict or inhibit tribes from exercising their inherent sovereign authority to engage in sustainable economic development for the benefit of their current members and future generations.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that as a primary priority NCAI urges Congress to enact trust reform legislation, either as stand-alone legislation or as part of another legislative vehicle to the extent such vehicle is available and appropriate under the circumstances, that will reaffirm the above foundational history and legal principles, require Executive Branch management of Indian trust assets to meet all federal trust obligations with full accountability to Indian beneficiaries, and require federal officials to honor and uphold the trust responsibilities of the United States to Indian tribes and individual Indian beneficiaries; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NCAI urges Congress to transfer the functions of the Office of the Special Trustee, with supporting appropriated funds, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or local BIA offices as appropriate, under the supervision and authority of a Deputy or Under Secretary for Indian Affairs, who would also oversee other Indian trust functions within the Department of the Interior; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NCAI urges Congress to enact a self-determination mechanism to increase tribal control and planning for tribal trust assets and streamline processes to expedite transactions and promote economic development, while maintaining federal trust oversight and responsibilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Resolution supersedes and replaces Resolution SAC-12-023; 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.