Friday, December 18, 2009

Really Old Masters, From 16,000 Years Ago, at China Lake

Published: December 18, 2009

Ridgecrest, Calif. — We were inside Restricted Area R-505 of the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, rolling in a minivan across the vast salt pan of an extinct Pleistocene lake on our way to see a renowned collection of ancient rock art. On the console between the seats was a long-range two-way radio. It was there so that our escort, a civilian Navy public affairs officer named Peggy Shoaf, could keep abreast of where and when any bombs would be dropped — or launched, or whatever — so that we wouldn’t be there when it happened.

Some of the rock paintings at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Center near Death Valley have been dated as far back as 16,000 years ago.
Established in the summer of 1943 in the heat of Allied offensives in the Pacific, China Lake is the Navy’s premier weapons testing range and its largest real estate holding. “Every weapon being used overseas right now was tested here,” Ms. Shoaf said. The property comprises 1.1 million acres of Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles and west of Death Valley, including the Coso Mountain range and an active volcanic field that is one of the largest producers of geothermal electricity in the country.

The base is a haven for wild horses, burros, rattlesnakes and scorpions. It is also home to a complex of remote canyons holding the greatest concentration of ancient rock art in the Western Hemisphere, known as the Coso Petroglyphs.

With us rode David S. Whitley, an archaeologist and expert on prehistoric rock art and iconographic interpretation. Having visited hundreds of sites all over the world, including Lascaux and Chauvet in France and the Côa Valley in Portugal, he believes the Coso Petroglyphs to be one of the most important rock art sites on earth.

Mr. Whitley estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 images carved into the dark volcanic canyons above the China Lake basin, some as old as 12,000 to 16,000 years, others as recent as the mid-20th century.

Floating across a landscape strewn with more than a half-century’s weapons-testing debris — observation towers, armored vehicles, projectile-riddled shipping containers — I tried to fathom that people had been coming here and making art since at least 90 centuries before the founding of Rome.

“It was a very different place then,” Mr. Whitley explained, conjuring the end of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, the melting of glaciers, the system of saline lakes across what is now called the Great Basin. “This had water over 100 feet deep,” he said. Mammoths, saber-toothed cats and giant Pleistocene bison still roamed the upland peninsulas.

Then, progressively, and with big ups and downs, the climate grew hotter and drier. The lakes and big animals disappeared, the pinyon and juniper woodlands moved up in elevation, and life for humans got significantly more difficult. And yet for many thousands of years thereafter people continued to carve figures and designs into the rocks.

We turned onto a washboard gravel road and 12 minutes later came to a small parking area, 49 road miles inside the base’s main gate at the edge of Ridgecrest. On this November day the thermometer read 43 degrees, but the air was still and the sun felt warm. We shouldered our lunches and camera gear and walked out along a path made of interlocking plastic tiles laid down in recent years so that Shoshone tribal elders could reach the site without having to struggle in the soft sand. Almost immediately we were in what is known as Little Petroglyph Canyon.

Everywhere we looked, for a mile or so down canyon, there were images pecked or scratched into the rock faces: stylized human figures in a variety of headgear, stick figures with bows and arrows, dogs or coyotes, bear paws with extra digits, all manner of abstract geometric patterns, zigzags and circles and dots, and hundreds upon hundreds of what looked like bighorn sheep, some small, some larger than life size.

Theories abound as to what the images might mean — all but the most recent, that is — or why they were put there. Some archaeologists believe that the images are evidence of simple hunting rituals. Mr. Whitley sees in them nothing less than the origins of human creativity and religion.

He theorizes, based on his research, that the petroglyphs are the work of generations of shamans, or medicine men, who traveled here (from all over what is now the southwestern United States) to fast and smoke native tobacco, to hallucinate or have visions, and to render their hallucinations on the rock. Perhaps the goal was to make rain. Perhaps it was to impress upon their followers a sense of the supernatural. Either way, where some might see a dearth of material wealth and technology, Mr. Whitley sees evidence of cognitive sophistication.

“We think of intelligence as expressed in iPods and the latest iPhone,” he said. But technology is often a poor substitute for knowledge: “Drop any of us in Death Valley and unless we had an RV fully stocked with all sorts of supplies we’d be dead in a week,” he said. The people who came before us, on the other hand, were adapted to this environment, so they could survive with nothing but what they could find or make, in a way that, he said, “runs counter to our technological materialistic view, is probably more admirable, and certainly more sustainable.”

For a time, after 9/11, civilian visits to the petroglyphs were suspended. “There’s always a risk when you let civilians into a secured area,” Ms. Shoaf said. But she said she felt the place was too precious for the public not to have access. So she rewrote the protocol to show the commanding officer how it might be possible to allow tours and still protect the base’s security. He agreed. More than 1,100 civilians visit the site every year, either on tours available to the public or as part of private tours with command-approved escorts arranged through Ms. Shoaf’s office.

We rested near the southern end of the canyon, sitting on the rocks in the sun and tucking into our lunches. I looked at one particularly elaborate frieze of images and tried to imagine what it would be like to spend four days here without food, smoking a native plant and thinking about the cosmos. I tried to imagine the distance between myself and the person who made those images. Then we stowed our garbage in our packs, made our way back up to the minivan and headed down to the base’s armaments museum, evidence of more modern human creativity of a different kind.


Public petroglyph tours are available through the Maturango Museum (100 East Las Flores Avenue, Ridgecrest, Calif.; 760-375-6900, $35 per person for nonmembers; $25 for members of museum and the Friends of Last Chance Canyon (

Arrangements can be made through the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake itself by calling the public affairs office at (760) 939-1683. The base’s Web site has information about the petroglyphs and the tours, which carry a number of restrictions, at

Tours are held on weekends and holidays. Certain Fridays are available for school tours. All tours are subject to cancellation on short notice because of military testing, security concerns or the weather.

Visitors are responsible for finding two command-approved escorts, arranging car pools and for filing all necessary paperwork. Up to three groups of 20 are allowed in the canyon each weekend day. No children under 10, and no pets.

Only American citizens are now allowed to go on tours, and proof of citizenship is required for participants 16 and older.

Also on the base is the U.S. Naval Museum of Armament and Technology (760-939-3530,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Long Island Shinnecock Indians Set to Win U.S. Recognition

Published: December 15, 2009

The Obama administration said Tuesday that the Shinnecock Indians on Long Island meet the criteria for federal recognition, signaling the end of a 30-year court battle and clearing a path for the tribe to pursue its plans for a casino in New York City or its suburbs.

The announcement all but assures that the 1,066-member Shinnecock Indian Nation will receive formal federal recognition, though a public-comment period of up to six months must be held before the final order is issued.

The news could mean significant changes for the relatively poor tribe, most of whose members live on 800 acres in Southampton, N.Y., not far from some of Long Island’s wealthiest communities and expansive celebrity-owned estates.

Shinnecock leaders have long argued that a casino could turn around the tribe’s fortunes.

“This recognition comes after years of anguish and frustration for many members of our Nation, living and deceased,” Randy King, chairman of the Shinnecock trustees, said in a statement, adding, “Perhaps this recognition will help some of our neighbors better understand us and foster a new mutual respect.”

Once it is federally recognized, the tribe would be entitled to build a “Class II” casino on its land that could have thousands of video slot machines but no table games. That has worried some local officials because of the implications that such a casino would have for traffic and tourism in the wealthy resort areas.

Tribal leaders have said they would prefer to negotiate with the state and federal government to build a or Class III casino on land elsewhere that would have table games and could be more lucrative both for the state and the tribe.

Tribal officials have expressed interest in a variety of sites for a casino, including other locations on Long Island or at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens or Belmont, in Nassau.

The state would get none of the proceeds from a Class II casino built on the tribe’s reservation, but would almost certainly insist on a percentage of any proceeds if it permitted construction elsewhere of a bigger casino — which could generate billions of dollars in revenue.

Gov. David A. Paterson had supported the tribe’s bid and urged the Obama administration to recognize it.

“As Governor Paterson has said, federal acknowledgment of the Shinnecock Indian Nation was long overdue,” said Morgan Hook, a spokesman for the governor. “This is a proud day for the Shinnecock. Governor Paterson looks forward to continued government-to-government relations with the Nation, and will continue to support their efforts to achieve full federal recognition.”

The difficult fiscal situation may bring new urgency to casino discussions.

State Senator Craig Johnson, a Long Island Democrat whose district encompasses Belmont, said the state should immediately begin serious talks about the issue.

“The first topic I want to discuss is how Belmont fits into this,” he said.

Gordell Wright, a tribal trustee, said in a statement that “there is no reason to wait for the recognition process to end, and every reason to act now so we can resolve these matters sooner than later.”

Tuesday’s announcement capped an arduous effort by the tribe, which had to meet seven criteria for approval. According to the Interior Department, the Shinnecock tribe needed to demonstrate that it was “continuously identified as an American Indian entity since 1900” and able to trace its origins back much further than that.

It was also required to establish that it was a viable political entity and that its current members are not members of another federally recognized tribe.

“I think their case was very strong,” said George T. Skibine, the acting principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs. “This was not difficult,” he added. “They met those pretty straightforwardly, fairly and squarely. I don’t think there is much room, based on the evidence, for concluding otherwise.”

Mr. Skibine made the decision after Larry Echo Hawk, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, recused himself from the matter because his brother had a role in representing the Shinnecock tribe.

The tribe’s history goes back hundreds of years; both the Dutch and English skirmished over the area in the 1600s, but the tribe remained there and was granted a 1,000-year lease by British colonists in the town of Southampton in 1703 — a deal that was later renegotiated.

In 1792, partly as a means of settling land disputes with the town farmers, the Shinnecock Indians began their current practice of annually electing three tribal trustees, according to John A. Strong, a retired Long Island University professor who has written three books about the Indians of Long Island.

Other chapters of the tribe’s lore are tragic. In the 1870s, a number of the tribe’s young men died when they were part of a salvage operation of a ship called the Circassian, which sank before they could return to shore.

The tribe’s court fight for federal recognition dates to 1978, when the tribe filed a petition for recognition.

In 2006, when it still had no answer, the tribe sued the Interior Department, saying that the agency had failed to process its request in a reasonable amount of time. Earlier this year, it entered into a settlement with the Interior Department that required a preliminary ruling by the end of this year.

The tribe is also hoping to resolve more than $1 billion worth of land disputes in the Hamptons, including its claim to the site of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, which has played host to the U.S. Open several times.

The tribe paid at least $1.74 million to seven different lobbying firms since 2005 as part of its recognition effort, according to public records.

As part of that lobbying and public relations campaign, the tribe hired Michael McKeon, Gov. George E. Pataki’s former communications director, and Alan Wheat, a former Missouri congressman, as well as Fleishman-Hillard, a Washington public relations firm.

Native Hawaiian Bill Poised to Pass 2 Committees

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two congressional committees are considering legislation this week that would let native Hawaiians establish their own government, much like those organized by hundreds of Indian tribes.

The House Natural Resources Committee takes first crack at the bill Wednesday. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee takes up the legislation Thursday.

The legislation had been expected to easily win the committees' approval, but Hawaii's governor and attorney general voiced objections late Tuesday to some of the changes that sponsors plan to propose. In light of the objections, Republican lawmakers have asked for a delay. Democrats, however, sensing they have the votes to prevail, are determined to proceed.

''Consideration of this bill should not go forward when the people and government officials who would be directly impacted by this legislation have raised serious objections and have not even had a chance to properly review the text,'' said Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington state, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee.

The legislation, known as the Akaka bill after its lead sponsor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has a long history. The bill would provide a road map to gradually establish a Native Hawaiian government.

Once established, the Native Hawaiian government would negotiate with the state and the federal government over which assets it would own. Currently, the state administers 1.2 million acres of former monarchy land. Some of that land, which is quite valuable, could eventually revert to the new government.

Supporters say the bill is about righting an injustice to Native Hawaiians that occurred when Hawaii's monarchy was overthrown in 1893. They note that Indian tribes and Alaska Natives have the right to self-governance.

''I believe we must provide parity between Native Hawaiians and our country's other indigenous people,'' said Akaka.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett have been supporters of the Akaka bill in the past. However, in a letter to federal lawmakers, Bennett said changes being made to the legislation are ''detrimental to the state.''

Bennett said authority granted the new government entity should come about only after negotiations and after the passage of legislation enacted by Congress, and when applicable, by the state. But an amended version of the bill makes immediate changes that are not subject to negotiation.

''These changes may immediately incorporate into the law governing Native Hawaiians a vast body of Indian law, much of which is unsuited for the state of Hawaii, and none of which (to our knowledge) has been evaluated for its impact on Hawaii,'' Bennett said.

Congressional aides said changes being proposed to the bill were sought by lawyers at the Justice Department.

''The Obama administration requested that we make it consistent with U.S. policy toward other native groups,'' said Jesse Broder Van Dyke, a spokesman for Akaka.

The legislation allowing for a Native Hawaiian government has passed the House on two occasions, most recently in October 2007, but it routinely has stumbled in the Senate. While the Bush administration opposed the bill, the support of President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, has changed the political dynamic.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Indian Gangs Grow, Bringing Fear and Violence to Reservation

Published: December 13, 2009

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — Richard Wilson has been a pallbearer for at least five of his “homeboys” in the North Side Tre Tre Gangster Crips, a Sioux imitation of a notorious Denver gang.

One 15-year-old member was mauled by rivals. A 17-year-old shot himself; another, on a cocaine binge and firing wildly, was shot by the police. One died in a drunken car wreck, and another, a founder of the gang named Gaylord, was stabbed to death at 27.

“We all got drunk after Gaylord’s burial, and I started rapping,” said Mr. Wilson, who, at 24, is practically a gang elder. “But I teared up and couldn’t finish.”

Mr. Wilson is one of 5,000 young men from the Oglala Sioux tribe involved with at least 39 gangs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The gangs are being blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence and fear that is altering the texture of life here and in other parts of American Indian territory.

This stunning land of crumpled prairie, horse pastures turned tawny in the autumn and sunflower farms is marred by an astonishing number of roadside crosses and gang tags sprayed on houses, stores and abandoned buildings, giving rural Indian communities an inner-city look.

Groups like Wild Boyz, TBZ, Nomads and Indian Mafia draw children from broken, alcohol-ravaged homes, like Mr. Wilson’s, offering brotherhood, an identity drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.

Some groups have more than a hundred members, others just a couple of dozen. Compared with their urban models, they are more likely to fight rivals, usually over some minor slight, with fists or clubs than with semiautomatic pistols.

Mr. Wilson, an unemployed school dropout who lives with assorted siblings and partners in his mother’s ramshackle house, without running water, displayed a scar on his nose and one over his eye. “It’s just like living in a ghetto,” he said. “Someone’s getting beat up every other night.”

The Justice Department distinguishes the home-grown gangs on reservations from the organized drug gangs of urban areas, calling them part of an overall juvenile crime problem in Indian country that is abetted by eroding law enforcement, a paucity of juvenile programs and a suicide rate for Indian youth that is more than three times the national average.

If they lack the reach of the larger gangs after which they style themselves, the Indian gangs have emerged as one more destructive force in some of the country’s poorest and most neglected places.

While many crimes go unreported, the police on the Pine Ridge reservation have documented thousands of gang-related thefts, assaults — including sexual assaults — and rising property crime over the last three years, along with four murders. Residents are increasingly fearful that their homes will be burglarized or vandalized. Car windows are routinely smashed out.

“Tenants are calling in and saying ‘I’m scared,’ ” Paul Iron Cloud, executive officer of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) Housing Authority, told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in July at a special hearing on the increase of gang activity.

“It seems that every day we’re getting more violence,” Mr. Iron Cloud said.

Perhaps unique to reservations, rivals sometimes pelt one other with cans of food from the federal commodity program, a practice called “commod-squadding.”

As federal grants to Pine Ridge have declined over the last decade, the tribal police force has shrunk by more than half, with only 12 to 20 officers per shift patrolling an area the size of Rhode Island, said John Mousseau, chairman of the tribe’s judiciary committee.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has proposed large increases in money for the police, courts and juvenile programs, and for fighting rampant domestic and sexual violence on reservations.

Christopher M. Grant, who used to head a police antigang unit in Rapid City, S.D., and is now a consultant on gangs to several tribes and federal agencies, has noted the “marked increase in gang activity, particularly on reservations in the Midwest, the Northwest and the Southwest” over the last five to seven years.

The Navajo Nation in Arizona, for example, has identified 225 gang units, up from 75 in 1997.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

In Twist, N. Dakota Tribe Fights to Keep College Nickname

Published: December 8, 2009

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Sometime soon, the Fighting Sioux of the University of North Dakota were to be no more, another collegiate nickname dropped after being deemed hostile and abusive to American Indians.

Except that some members of the Spirit Lake Tribe, one of two groups of Sioux in the state, say they consider the nickname an honor and worry that abandoning it would send them one step closer to obscurity.

“When you hear them announce the name at the start of a hockey game, it gives you goose bumps,” said Frank Black Cloud, a tribal member. “They are putting us up on a pinnacle.”

And so, in a legal standoff that has turned some preconceptions upside down, North Dakota’s top state lawyers will be in court on Wednesday to oppose members of the Spirit Lake Tribe who have sued to preserve the Fighting Sioux name and logo, an image of an Indian in profile, feathers draping down.

The battle here, like some others at the 20 or so institutions urged by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to drop their mascots, names or images, has been painful and drawn out. The University of North Dakota is the only one still sorting the matter out, an N.C.A.A. spokesman said, and it is creating rifts on this campus of 13,000 students, among its web of alumni that run through nearly every realm in North Dakota, and, especially, among American Indians here.

All around, harsh new accusations are flying. The members from Spirit Lake behind the lawsuit assert that many of the American Indians opposed to the Fighting Sioux nickname are simply from tribes other than the Sioux, and are jealous of all the recognition. (Opponents call this absurd.)

Some against the name claim that the operators of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the gleaming hockey stadium built by a particularly successful alumnus for more than $100 million — and contains 2,400 images of the logo — are secretly behind the lawsuit, hoping to block the nickname from being abandoned. (False, the Spirit Lake members and hockey stadium officials say.)

“Still, to do what they’re doing, you’re more or less selling out,” said Frank Sage, a Navajo and one of about 400 American Indian students at the university and one who says he finds the Fighting Sioux imagery hurtful and harmful. “They’re just being used.”

The lawsuit, filed last month by eight members of the Spirit Lake Tribe, is tangled, and grows out of a similarly tangled series of events that began in 2005, when the N.C.A.A. warned the University of North Dakota and 17 other colleges to change their nicknames and mascots if they wished to show the images at N.C.A.A.-controlled championships or to host such events. (Two other institutions were later added, according to the N.C.A.A.)

Since then, some colleges changed their logos, others sought and received permission from local tribes to keep them, and a few resolved the matter in other ways.

But the University of North Dakota is still at it. The state’s Board of Higher Education and the university sued the N.C.A.A. to preserve the nickname and logo, and in 2007 reached a settlement that let it keep them if the Sioux tribal councils in the state — at Spirit Lake and Standing Rock — agreed to the idea by the end of November 2010.

But some university officials said they began worrying that the debate was leading other institutions to avoid competing against them in sports. Robert Kelley, the university’s president, has taken no position on the nickname but said he found himself being asked about it almost constantly — at the supermarket, in meetings of the state’s Congressional delegation — and wanted to ensure that the debate did not eclipse the university’s academic focus.

Politics on the reservations have also turned tense. In September, the tribal council in Spirit Lake, 100 miles west of Grand Forks, voted to allow the name. But at Standing Rock, more than 300 miles southwest of here, a past tribal chairman was deeply opposed, and a new chairman brought no clear answer, noting in a letter to state officials this fall that he would prefer an “open dialogue as opposed to a stipulated arrangement under deadline.”

By then, the Board of Higher Education, which sets policy for public universities, concluded that it was time to give up. The board voted to prepare to “retire” the nickname if a deal was not struck with Standing Rock by the end of October, but a few days after the deadline, the group from Spirit Lake secured a temporary restraining order against the plan. Patrick R. Morley, a lawyer for the group, argues that the university, under its settlement with the N.C.A.A., must at least wait until next November for an answer from Standing Rock.

And some at Spirit Lake argue that they — not students — should have the ultimate say on the matter, while some at the university say the backlash from the debate is showing up here, on campus, not on Indian land.

“We’re talking tears and heartbreak here for our students,” said Linda Neuerburg, assistant director of American Indian Student Services at the university, which has 29 programs for American Indians. Leaders at the American Indian Center held up T-shirts they have collected showing images of Indians and bison (the nickname of the rival North Dakota State University teams) in vulgar poses. They described the insult of people walking on a large logo of the Indian face on the floor of the hockey stadium.

But those suing said they were proud of the nickname.

“I am full blood and I grew up on this reservation,” said Eunice Davidson, 57, who wore a Fighting Sioux sweatshirt on a recent afternoon. “I have to tell you, I am very, very honored that they would use the name.”

On Wednesday, the statewill argue against the Spirit Lake members’ restraining order, raising questions about their legal standing, said Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota’s attorney general. This puts him, too, in an unlikely spot: Mr. Stenehjem, an alumnus of the university who, like many other political leaders here, has been supportive of the nickname, filed the initial suit against the N.C.A.A. to protect the name. But if the Board of Higher Education wants to be rid of it now, he said, that is its authority.

Still, Frank Black Cloud, the Spirit Lake member, said an end to the nickname would not soothe relations between white North Dakotans and American Indians.

“If you think there are some tensions at the university before, just think what repercussions there will be for Indians then,” Mr. Black Cloud said. “You are going to kick us back a century.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

U.S. Agrees to $3 Billion Deal in Indian Trust Suit

Published: December 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — The federal government announced on Tuesday that it intends to pay $3.4 billion to settle claims that it has mismanaged the revenue in American Indian trust funds, potentially ending one of the longest and most complicated class-action lawsuits ever brought against the government.

The tentative agreement, reached late Monday between Obama administration negotiators and lawyers for some 300,000 individual American Indians, would resolve a 13-year-old lawsuit over trust accounts established in the 19th century.

“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States,” said Ken Salazar, the Interior Department secretary.

For the agreement to become final, Congress still needs to enact legislation and the federal courts must then sign off on it. Administration officials said they hoped those two steps would be completed in the next few months.

The dispute arises from a system dating to 1887 under which the government set up trusts to manage tens of millions of acres of land owned by individual American Indians and by tribes. The acreage is scattered across the country with the heaviest concentration in Western states.

The Interior Department manages leases on the land for activities like mining, livestock grazing, timber harvesting and drilling for oil and gas. It then distributes the revenue raised by those leases to the American Indians.

The lawsuit accuses the federal government of mismanaging the trusts for generations. As a result, the value of the trusts has been unclear, and the American Indians contend they are owed far more than what they have been paid.

Under the settlement agreement, the government would pay $1.4 billion to compensate the Indians for their claims of historical accounting irregularities and any accusation that federal officials mismanaged the administration of the trust assets over the years.

Each member of the class would receive a check for $1,000, and the rest of the money would be distributed according to the land owned. In addition, lawyer fees, to be determined by a judge, would be paid out of those funds.

In a statement, President Obama hailed the agreement as an “important step towards a sincere reconciliation” between American Indians and the federal government. He noted that as a presidential candidate, he had pledged to American Indians that he would work to resolve the lawsuit if he were elected.

The proposed settlement also seeks to resolve an ever-growing headache created by the trust system: the original tribal members who were granted parcels of Indian land have many heirs, which has “fractionalized” the ownership interests.

For example, one 40-acre parcel of land today has 439 owners, most of whom receive less than $1 a year in income from it, said David J. Hayes, the Interior Department deputy secretary. The parcel is valued at about $20,000, but it is costing the government more than $40,000 a year to administer those trusts.

In an effort to resolve such problems — and prevent them from growing worse with subsequent generations — the settlement would establish a $2 billion fund to buy fractional interests in land from anyone willing to sell. The program would consolidate ownership in parcels of land and turn them over to tribes.

Over the years, the plaintiffs have contended that they were owed tens of billions of dollars, while the government has at times taken the position that it owed them nothing.

Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff who filed the class-action lawsuit in 1996, said she believed that the American Indians were owed more than the settlement, but that it was better to reach an agreement that could help impoverished trust holders rather than spending additional years in litigation. She said she had originally expected the litigation to last only two or three years.

“We are compelled to settle by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each day as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving just compensation,” Ms. Cobell said.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. described the litigation as intense and difficult. He noted that it had engendered seven full trials covering 192 trial days, generated 22 published judicial opinions, and that issues arising from the lawsuit had been brought before a federal appeals court 10 times.

“The United States could have continued to litigate this case, at great expense to the taxpayers,” Mr. Holder said. “It could have let all of these claims linger, and could even have let the problem of fractionated land continue to grow with each generation. But with this settlement, we are erasing these past liabilities and getting on track to eliminate them going forward.”

Mr. Salazar said he would also establish a commission to handle trust account issues in the future.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

In Bolivia, a Force for Change Endures

Published: December 6, 2009
LA PAZ, Bolivia — The slogans and posters of Che Guevara notwithstanding, this is not Havana circa 1969, nor Managua, 1979. Instead, the fervor in the offices of the Deputy Ministry of Decolonization could only be felt in the Bolivia of President Evo Morales, who seemed to be sailing toward a victory in an election on Sunday.

The writing on the wall here, literally, is in two indigenous languages — Quechua and Aymara — unmistakable signs of the political movement that has shaken the institutions of this impoverished nation.

“Jisk’a Achasiw Tuq Saykat Taqi Jach’a P’iqincha,” says the greeting at the office of Monica Rey, who explains that it is Aymara for the new unit she leads, the Directorate for the Struggle Against Racism.

“We are in the process of conquering our country’s minds and, even more challenging, its fears,” said Ms. Rey, listing a variety of projects, including changing the portraits on Bolivia’s currency from the white men who long ruled the country to indigenous heroes like Túpac Katari and Bartolina Sisa, leaders of an 18th-century revolt against Spanish rule.

With a sharply weakened opposition and his visceral connection to the indigenous majority — who make up more than 60 percent of the population — Mr. Morales, 50, is arguably the nation’s strongest leader in decades.

He easily won a constitutional overhaul this year allowing him to run for another five-year term. Now polls here show him and his supporters far ahead as Bolivians voted on Sunday. He is within grasp of solid legislative majorities that would allow him to mold the nation further as its first indigenous president.

Voting appeared to unfold calmly in much of Bolivia on Sunday, according to interviews with voters here and radio reports from other voting centers. “Evo has to stay so he can finish what he started,” said Juan Carlos Garcia, 24, a street vendor in El Alto, a city of slums above La Paz, before casting his vote at a crowded polling station Sunday morning. “Those who disagree must bend to the will of the majority,” he added.

Mr. Morales voted early Sunday in Villa 14 de Septiembre, a community in the Chapare jungle of central Bolivia, a coca-growing region that is a bastion of support for the president. He said voters had the right to decide between “the process of change or neoliberalism,” the term Mr. Morales often uses to disparage market-oriented economic policies.

But his dominance has earned him some unexpected rivals, beyond the opposition he faces from traditional elites in the rebellious eastern lowlands. His broadening influence also feels oppressive to an array of indigenous politicians struggling to emerge from his shadow.

“This government exists to spend money on Evo’s campaigns at the expense of the rest of us,” said Felipe Quispe, 67, an Aymara Indian who entered politics after leading a guerrilla insurgency in the 1980s and being imprisoned in the 1990s. “Evo is an Indian dressed in fancy clothing, surrounded by white men and mestizos.”

The iconic Mr. Quispe, who commands a radical party with a small percentage of voters, said the Aymaras, about a quarter of Bolivia’s population of 9.8 million, should reject the very idea of Bolivia to form a homeland with Aymara-speaking people from Peru’s high plains. “We must de-Bolivianize ourselves,” he said.

Ricardo Calla, an anthropologist and the minister of indigenous affairs in a previous administration, said that just as Mr. Quispe stood to the left of the president, other indigenous politicians had emerged across the ideological spectrum, suggesting a more varied political class than presented by state media here.

In the center, for instance, is Savina Cuéllar, a provincial governor in southern Bolivia. To the right is Víctor Hugo Cárdenas, a former vice president whose home was attacked by a pro-Morales mob this year. Still further to the right is Fernando Untoja, an Aymara intellectual running for Congress on the ticket of Manfred Reyes Villa, a former army captain trailing far behind Mr. Morales in second place.

“Evo himself,” said Mr. Calla, the anthropologist, “could be considered the authoritarian left.” Contributing to this classification, he argued, was Mr. Morales’s resistance to cooperating with other parties, threats to jail opponents and the celebration of his administration in government-paid advertising. Mr. Calla called the government’s exuberance over Mr. Morales’s achievements “a cult of personality” in the making.