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[casi] Cherokee Message: "Bureau of Iraqi Affairs?"

Cherokee Phoenix
And Indian Advocate
(918) 456-0671, Ext. 2269 FAX (918) 458-6136
© Cherokee Nation - All Rights Reserved
---------------------------------------------------------------------------- June 2003

Bureau of Iraqi Affairs?

By Travis Snell
Staff Writer

Travis Snell has served as a staff writer and copy editor for the Cherokee
Phoenix for over two years. He earned his print journalism degree from
Oklahoma City University.

On Jan. 23, about two months before the United States and United Kingdom
armed forces began bombing and invading Iraq, Secretary of State Colin
Powell said Iraq’s oil “belongs to the Iraqi people” and the United States
would hold Iraqi oil reserves in trust if (when) it occupied Iraq after a

Powell also said Iraqi oil “will not be exploited for the United States’ own
purpose.” He said the United States is “studying different models” of how
Iraq’s oil fields would be operated under a U.S.-led occupation and that
they “will be held in trust for the Iraqi people, to benefit the Iraqi

My only thoughts when I read that, “Good luck Iraq. You’re going to need it
if the United States holds your oil in trust. Native Americans must be
laughing everywhere.”

In 1887 when the U.S. Congress passed the Dawes Act, it divided much of the
remaining land collectively held by tribes into individual plots ranged in
size from 40 acres to 160 acres. It was supposed to have turned Native
Americans into farmers. The effects were demoralizing. The government
allotted vast amounts of the tribal lands to mining, grazing, timber and
irrigation businesses, and the money accrued by the sale or lease of these
lands was held “in trust” by the government and was to be given back to
Native Americans in the form of services and individual payments. It didn’t

In 1996, a group of Native American citizens, the Native American Rights
Fund and the Intertribal Monitoring Association filed the largest
class-action lawsuit in history involving the U.S. government. The suit
called for restitution of $100 billion from Native American trust funds the
government has lost, paid to the wrong people or simply withheld.

Since the suit’s filing, two consecutive Secretaries of the Interior have
been found in contempt of court for blocking investigations and refusing to
carry out court-ordered reforms. It’s revealed a history of corruption,
incompetence and theft by the government, especially the Department of the
Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It’s revealed that the BIA paid
out approximately $700 million in tribal funds to the wrong people. It’s
also shown that the BIA has been paying money into the accounts of 21,000
people who are deceased, and is withholding $50 million owed to individual
Native Americans because it has no address for them on file.

Can we expect the same incompetence from the U.S. government with Iraq’s “in
trust” oil? I wouldn’t rule it out if only the U.S. government handles the

Iraq’s oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s, which could mean
billions of dollars a year for the Iraqi people. Powell said he was not
certain how Iraq’s oil revenue would be allocated after a war, but he
indicated that U.S. officials are not seeking to use the funds for
reparations. However, he did not rule out the use of Iraq’s oil revenue to
cover a portion of postwar peacekeeping and reconstruction expenses incurred
by the United States or other nations.

Asked if foreign oil companies such as Halliburton or the government-owned
Iraqi National Oil Company would control the oilfields, Powell said, “We don
’t have an answer to that question yet.”

According to one Associated Press story, conservatives in the Bush
administration favor bypassing the Iraqi National Oil Company, taking
short-term control of the oilfields and opting for privatization. With this
privatization, anti-war protesters claimed the Bush administration plans to
release Iraqi oil on to the world market, reduce the dominance of Saudi
Arabia with its 262 million barrels of reserves and engineer the slashing of
oil prices to benefit the U.S. economy. How much would the Iraqi people
benefit from that? Are they to get payments and services from these sales as
the Native Americans were promised from their natural resources?

It comes down to this: When the United States takes control of the Iraqi oil
after the war, will it do a better job of holding “in trust” that country’s
oil for its people than it did for Native Americans’ natural resources? I
hope so. And exactly who will handle the job, the BIA (Bureau of Iraqi

I’m not debating whether or not the U.S. and U.K. armed forces should or
shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. That point is moot. I just hope the U.S.
government has learned a lesson when dealing with “in trust” issues, and I
hope the Iraqis get a better shake than what Native Americans got because
after 30 years of Saddam Hussein, they deserve it.

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