April 29th, 2008
After a little more than a year on the job, assistant secretary Carl Artman announced his resignation as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Artman, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, did not give a reason. His letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne cited “many accomplishments” that he achieved since taking over the BIA in March 2007. “I believe at the end of this administration, the work we have done within Indian Affairs will leave not just a legacy, but an infrastructure upon which American Indians and Alaska Natives can build to secure their governmental, cultural and economic futures.”
Artman becomes the third assistant secretary to quit the BIA during the Bush administration. These frequent changes make tribal leaders and members of Congress worried about the future of the agency that serves more than 560 tribal governments and more than 2 million American Indias. Before Artman came on board, the BIA went without an assistant secretary for more than two years.
The person in line for the post, in an acting capacity, seems to be Majel Russell, a citizen of the Crow Nation. But she has not kept a permanent office in Washington, D.C., preferring instead to travel back and forth from Montana. And I believe she only came into that job within the last year or less.
Artman was no stranger to controversy. Two of the “accomplishments” he cited in his resignation letter were among his most criticized actions in Indian Country.
The first being the initiative to modernize the BIA. Tribal leaders complained that they weren’t consulted and even after Artman attempted to smooth relations, they questioned the wisdom of starting such a huge undertaking so late in the administration.
The second affected the way the BIA handles the land-into-trust process. Artman said he instituted “drastic improvements” that have reduced the backlog of applications, which at one point he put at more than 1,300 before revising it to a much lower figure.
Artman issued guidelines in January that make it nearly impossible for tribes to acquire land away from their existing reservations. He did not consult tribes before he made the new policy.