The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) is responsible for reforms of the management of Indian trust assets. Special Trustee Ross Swimmer met with the nine member advisory board on January 17, 2008. Among other business, the board offered resolutions on three challenging issues: inactive accounts, fractionation of land, and the disposition of OST.
The first resolution proposed by the board is for OST to recommend legislation to the Department to create a single account similar to an unclaimed property fund. This type of fund is used by states when assets, such as safe deposit box contents or money from pension plans or insurance payments, are available to people who cannot be located. The board recommended that money from Individual Indian Money (IIM) accounts owned by people whose whereabouts have been unknown for several years be pooled into one unclaimed property account. Interest from the fund would go into the general IIM pool; principal would remain in the unclaimed property account in perpetuity or until claimed by the owner. Savings would result from maintaining the several thousand “whereabouts unknown” IIM accounts.
Following the discussion of the first resolution was the introduction of a resolution on the topic of fractionation, which occurs as land passes from one generation to the next and more and more heirs acquire an undivided interest in the land. The board recommended that Congress, working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian organizations, make an effort this year to develop a solution to fractionation. They referenced the tribal “Rosebud model,” which has been in operation since 1947. This model set up a tribal land enterprise (TLE) to hold title to small fractional interests on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. Owners receive interest based on their shares in the TLE.
The third issue, a resolution about the disposition of OST, was thoroughly debated. Concerns were voiced that advances made by OST should not be reversed, nor should progress on trust reform cease. The consensus was that OST needs to continue in its role in the Department of Interior as a focused, professional, independent fiduciary trust management organization with separate congressional funding.
Visit the OST website at www.doi.gov/ost to obtain a list of the advisory board members.