Professor Carl J. Artman, Director of the Economic Development in Indian Country Program, recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs at a hearing, "Where's the Trustee? Department of Interior Backlogs Prevent Tribes from Using their Lands."
Artman, an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, served as the 10th Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of the Interior and as the Department's Associate Solicitor for Indian Affairs.
At the Dec. 9 hearing, Artman addressed the issue of backlogs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs on land-related matters, and the impact this has on the ability of tribes to govern and engage in economic development.
"When I served as Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs, we identified the backlogs in fee-to-trust applications, probates, and leases as a foundational issue in problems that impacted tribes on numerous levels," Artman testified. "This backlog prohibited tribes from fully exercising their sovereignty and jurisdiction over these lands, inhibited tribal economic development, and forestalled the vesting of rights for individual tribal members."
Artman said that, at that time, it was impossible to determine the extent of the problem, but he pledged to begin to resolve it.
Eventually, the Department determined there was a backlog of 1,489 fee-to-trust applications, developed a handbook to create consistency in the process, and was able to process many of the applications and determine the status of others.
However, the Department had more difficulty with leasing and appraisals.
Asked by Committee member Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), about how to solve the backlog problem in terms of leases, Artman said that a bill before Congress based on a Navajo model could help, as would a handbook to standardize policies, processes and internal guidelines.
"But you also have a human resource issue that no handbook or process can overcome," Artman said. "It's a matter of funding and priorities."
Watch a Web cast of the hearing here.
Read Artman's prepared testimony here.