WASHINGTON, D.C. – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne today told American Indian and Native Alaskan leaders that his administration is committed to working with their governments to increase educational and economic opportunities in Indian Country and to promote stronger government-to-government relations.
In remarks to the National Congress of American Indians in Sacramento, Calif., Kempthorne noted his experience working with tribal communities in Idaho and the Northwest and stressed the importance of listening closely to tribal leaders and his commitment to actively shape a more effective system for supporting tribal governments in their social, commercial and political development.
“As Secretary, I will continue to listen and to act in the best interests of Indian Country,” Kempthorne told more than 2,500 delegates to the conference. “My goal is to bring the spirit of partnership we had in Idaho to the national level.”
He noted his work with Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene and other tribal leaders on water rights, fish and wildlife restoration and economic development in the Columbia River Basin.
Kempthorne said his Interior team is making progress in resolving the Cobell case, thanking Jim Cason, Interior’s Associate Deputy Secretary, who has been serving as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs for 18 months. “Currently, Jim is helping me as I work with the U.S. Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget and key congressional leaders, such as Senators McCain and Dorgan, to find a mutually acceptable resolution to Cobell litigation that will be fair, full, and final,” Kempthorne said.
Kempthorne introduced Carl Artman, the Administration’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin who has been serving as Interior’s Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs. Previously, he was chief counsel of the Oneida Tribe.
Kempthorne said Interior has a clearer understanding of how reservation economies are different from non-Indian economies and how to approach strengthening these economies. “We are making changes at Interior to meet the unique needs of Indian Country,” he said, noting the realignment of Interior’s Indian economic development programs into Interior’s new Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development.
“The office is organized and sharply focused on the goals of new jobs, new businesses, and new capital on tribal lands,” Kempthorne said. “I have charged this office with the task of developing innovative, collaborative and more modern approaches to improving economic opportunities for the tribes.”
This office is working with individual tribes to identify and nurture economic opportunities that best fit their resources, workforce, markets, and culture. Energy and mineral development are areas that hold enormous economic potential for tribes, he noted. Tribal lands hold the potential to produce nearly five and a half billion barrels of oil, nearly 38 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 53 billion tons of coal. Advanced technology can assist tribal governments with energy development, including renewable sources, such as wind and biomass.
On the education front, Kempthorne noted several major initiatives, including
a coordinated effort to combat the methamphetamine epidemic in Indian Country. “The initiative will focus both on law enforcement to crack down on the gangs and other criminals who are preying on our children and treatment for those who have been ensnared in meth’s deadly web,” Kempthorne said.
He is working to obtain additional funds to bolster law enforcement on tribal lands, particularly in problem areas. “We are considering the idea of helping tribes establish drug courts to handle the flood of meth cases and to construct new jail space that is badly needed if we are going to be effective in combating this scourge. I am eager to hear your ideas as we develop this initiative,” he told American Indian and Native Alaskan leaders, who applauded his remarks.
Kempthorne also reported that Interior has completed the transition of the Office of Indian Education Programs to a full-fledged bureau, improving Interior management performance as the first step to improving student performance. Interior is hiring seven senior managers and 19 Education Line Officers, and has opened a new National Indian Programs Training Center in Albuquerque to train Interior and tribal employees in a variety of trust areas, including education.