September 20, 2007

Dueling views on Gover

Cobell:  Museum's process, pick flawedAs assistant secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, he was held in civil contempt of court in the class action lawsuit I and others filed over the government's admitted mishandling of 500,000 Individual Indian Trust accounts.

This was not, as Mr. Gover has claimed, a simple administrative mistake. He and others withheld needed trust documents from the court for 26 months and then misled the court about what they had done.

The idea of strong public oversight, such as Judge Lamberth exercised in his 10 years overseeing our case, does not sit well with Mr. Gover either. "I mean, there's such a thing as too much oversight, and if we spend most of our time responding to overseers as opposed to doing the work, then it becomes destructive," Gover said. He added he didn't think the trust case had reached that point.

But in an interview with Indian Country Today published Aug. 30, 2000, Mr. Gover seemed to espouse a different tune. Speaking of the Cobell plaintiffs, he bragged, "We whipped them." He claimed victory because Judge Lamberth had declined to place the Indian trust into receivership and Congress had continued to fund Interior's slow efforts to restore trust records.
Gourneau:  Kevin Gover unquestionably best choice to run NMAIThe lawsuit named Interior, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the BIA as the defendants. When the U.S. Senate confirmed Gover as U.S. Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, he assumed policy oversight of the BIA and inherited the lawsuit. As the secretaries of Interior and Treasury, Bruce Babbitt and Robert Rubin also were pro forma named as defendants.

Civil contempt charges were brought against the Interior and Treasury departments and the BIA in 1998 for failing to produce in a timely manner documents plaintiffs had requested in discovery. Secretary Babbitt, Secretary Rubin and Assistant Secretary Gover were not accused of playing personal roles in the failure to produce the documents. When the court found that the agencies had failed to meet their responsibilities, the secretaries and the assistant secretary did not appeal the contempt citation, because they agreed that the documents had not been produced in a timely manner.

Later, when the court held a trial to determine whether Interior had breached its trust responsibilities to Indian trust beneficiaries, Secretary Babbitt and Assistant Secretary Gover testified that Interior had in fact breached its responsibilities over many decades and accepted responsibility for working to improve the system and compensate the beneficiaries.

These are not the acts of people who do not care about American Indian people. They are the acts of public officials who care very much, and who inherited an Indian trust system that was on the verge of collapse. They accepted the responsibility and worked to improve the system.

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