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Did U.S. Mismanage Indian Fees?

Says Government Can't Account For $2.4 Billion

The government's management of monies owed to Native Americans is "worse than anyone could ever imagine," Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz) tells Mike Wallace in an interview to be broadcast Sunday, April 2 on 60 Minutes.

In fact, McCain says, Native Americans once again are being taken advantage of by the government.

McCain, a ranking member of the Indian Affairs Committee, appears in a 60 Minutes report examining alleged mismanagement of funds owed to Indians from profits made from their land.

According to a lawsuit filed by Native Americans, the Individual Indian Monies Trust has badly mishandled records over the years, and has lost or diverted billions of dollars of their money. The problem is so bad that the Native Americans don't really know how much money they are owed for resources like oil and timber taken from their land.

McCain says he believes only Native Americans would be treated so shabbily in this country. "[The government] cannot account for $2.4 billion...If $2.4 billion for any other group of Americans could not be accounted for, there would be an outcry," says McCain. "There would be a national scandal."

The closest thing to a national scandal came when Congress, acting on scathing General Accounting Office reports about the Indian trust mismanagement, put a special trustee over Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to make sure Babbitt's department sorted out the trust mess. But the trustee, Paul Homan, quit. "Paul Homan was clearly hamstrung by the Department of Interior and Department of Treasury," says McCain.

"I don't know why Bruce Babbitt hasn't done a better job," McCain continues. He tells Wallace that Babbitt - who refused repeated requests for a 60 Minutes interview - owes the American people an explanation.

That is all some Indians are looking for: an explanation. Mary Fish of Oklahoma, a member of the Muskogee tribe, owns a one-eighth share in seven oil wells, and gets regular checks for irregular amounts, from six cents to $3,000. She has no idea if the amounts are adequate because there is no documentation. "I don't even know how much we get paid for them [oil] pumps, much oil comes into them oil tanks," Fish tells Wallace.

Fish has tried (to no avail) to obtain records about her land and oil that would answer her questions and perhaps explain why some of her fellow Muskogee get little or no money.

Eloise Cobell, a Blackfoot from Montana, is similarly perplexed over how much she should be getting for the grazing and timber rights from her lands, and firmly believes Indians are being cheated. "Why aren't [government officials] managing our money to standards? Is it because you manage brown people's money differently?" she asks.

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