Border analyses by GIS could untangle Indian trust fund assets

To estimate the scale of the government's debt to American Indians for land holdings, the U.S. District Court in Washington is reviewing information about trust assets created by geographic information system analyses.

The plaintiffs in the case of Cobell v. Norton, which has leveled a multibillion-dollar claim against the Interior Department over mismanaged trust assets, hired Farragut Systems Inc. of Lafayette, Colo., to deploy a GIS for trust asset analysis.

Farragut used ArcView 3.2 from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. The consulting company noted in a recent report that several Interior agencies have used similar systems, including the Geological Survey, National Park Service, and bureaus of Land Management, Reclamation and Indian Affairs.

The plaintiffs' consultant used a BIA data set to determine the location of reservation boundaries. To determine the quantities of petroleum produced on the American Indian lands, the consultants overlaid privately generated production data, and to find mineral output, they used USGS data on mine activity.

The government provided the reservation boundary data and Geological Survey mine data in GIS format.

Estimates over research

The GIS approach to estimating the value of trust assets contrasts with the approach of attempting to reconstruct trust records'many of which have been destroyed'by forensic accounting, historical analysis and anthropological research, as Interior officials have proposed.

The Cobell plaintiffs have combined the GIS analysis results with other consultants' estimates of the value of forestry, mining and petroleum assets on American Indian lands, to create databases describing the disputed assets.

The trust case came to prominence in December 2001, when U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered Interior to sever its systems' ties to the Internet until it could assure the security of trust data. Most Interior agencies now have been reconnected to the Web, but parts of BIA remain isolated from the Internet.

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