Amid unconfirmed hold on confirmation, Anderson steps closer to BIA post

Jerry Reynolds
10/31/03

Late breaking: Unconfirmed reports indicate that a hold has been placed on Anderson's confirmation by a member of the Senate who remains anonymous under Senate protocol.

WASHINGTON ? Dave Anderson has earned an expected recommendation from the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to head the BIA. The Oct. 22 vote of those committee members present or balloting by proxy was unanimous, 13-0, with Republican members Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona abstaining in absentia.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Anderson is poised to become one of the most interesting and different, and without doubt the most inspired, of BIA stewards.

If making more than enough money is one essential attribute of belonging to the human community in a cash economy, Anderson is a reminder that making far more than enough doesn't have to remove one from the core concerns of that community. In Anderson's case, great personal wealth has led him to a deeper engagement with his communities. Within the Minnesota community where he makes his home, he's a regional celebrity through the Famous Dave's Barbecue Shack franchises ? but even more so through his good works, which are frequent and widespread. Within the Indian community (he is a member of the Lac Courtes Oreilles Chippewa and Oklahoma Choctaw tribes), he's an inspirational figure, one who has overcome adversities ranging from bankruptcy to alcoholism to succeed in business (by virtue of Famous Dave's, Rainforest Cafes which he co-founded, and other ventures), in education (master's degree, Harvard), in politics after a fashion (he has been a regular political appointee to advisory councils and commissions and comes to the BIA by way of a personal request from President George W. Bush), and in community service (his businesses have created 18,000 new jobs, he has donated more than $6 million to Native causes, and those he has assisted in various walks of life are legion).

Anderson has also served in a handful of public service positions with tribal, state and federal agencies.

Now, none of this converts infallibly to success at the BIA. Anderson's successors also weighed in with impressive credentials. But Ada Deer wasn't up to the task of trust reform and Neal McCaleb was too put-upon by trust litigation and its rat-a-tat of court orders to get any traction going. By the time of Anderson's anticipated confirmation by the full Senate, the BIA top post will have been vacant for almost a year.

At the Oct. 22 committee hearing, Anderson got credit for keeping his distance from the trust reform lawsuit. His restaurant chain has taught him that "belly-to-belly in the community" is the best way to figure out problems and find solutions, he said, and he hasn't yet had those conversations on trust management reform. And so he simply stated that he has no answers for trust reform, and doesn't count on having any until he's been in office for a suitable period. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., commended the issue to the forefront of Anderson's attention by inviting him to visit South Dakota, home to nine of the Great Plains tribes. Johnson documented that Great Plains tribes altogether hold 27 percent of the Individual Indian Money Accounts, as well as 36 percent of all trust land title documents, 37 percent of land owner interests in trust, and 33 percent of trust allotments and tribal tracts.

Anderson called the government-to-government relationship between sovereign tribes and the federal government the "cornerstone" of self-determination, and left no doubt that he will defend tribal sovereignty and self-governance within the Bush administration.

Anderson's involvement with Indian casinos, much anticipated in the media, proved a non-issue with the committee. In response to a single query from committee co-chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., Anderson said gaming is an opportunity for tribes, one they must take full advantage of and eventually get beyond by creating diversified business opportunities.

As a BIA appointee to the National Task Force on Reservation Gaming in 1983, Anderson has been involved in Indian gaming from well before its official advent in 1988. But the personal wealth Anderson derived from a casino management firm before he became "Famous Dave" got a more positive expression than the press has given it from Audrey Bennett, president of Prairie Island Indian Community in Minnesota. "His work in tribal gaming helped build the foundations on which a number of tribal communities throughout the country now are beginning to thrive, including the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe ?" Anderson negotiated the first gaming compact between the Lac Courte Oreilles and the state of Wisconsin.

Anderson's own view of his BIA role can perhaps be summed up in one word ? inspirational. After warming to the theme with a brief account of his own path through alcoholism and chemical abuse to "the red road of recovery," his written testimony on the subject was most revealing:

"The high suicide rates, drop-outs, alcoholism incidents, and unemployment rates within our tribal homelands are occurring not because the federal government is non-responsive or that the BIA is inefficient, but because many of our youth are growing up without much hope of living lives of achievement or accomplishment. This is where I know that I can have the greatest impact for the future of Indian country.

"I see a time when Native Americans will innately tap into their deepest, most personal resources, to become all that they truly desire and deserve. There will be a time when all American Indians and Alaska Natives will drive their lives with the extraordinary power of positive thinking, a firm belief in their ideas, and a self-mastery of personal achievement strategies to truly change the face of Indian country.

" ? My life today is about giving back. I have personally invested millions of dollars in the support of powerful programs and services to promote the re-creation of healthy tribal nations. I have a firm resolve that through the personal development of each Native individual, one person at a time if necessary, Indian country will once again assume its rightful place of honor as the shining light in America."

As the full Senate prepares to consider his nomination, Anderson will divest himself of various business interests that might conflict with his BIA role. He intends stepping down from the board of "Famous Dave's," while retaining ownership shares.

Late breaking: Unconfirmed reports indicate that a hold has been placed on Anderson's confirmation by a member of the Senate who remains anonymous under Senate protocol.

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