Fiduciary Responsibility

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A fiduciary is a person who acts in best interest of another, or for another’s benefit, as a trustee in relation to his beneficiary. Parties owing this duty are called fiduciaries. The individuals to whom they owe a duty are called principals. In legal terms it is the duty to act solely in another party’s interests. A fiduciary duty is the strictest duty of care recognized by the US legal system.

I explained the definition of fiduciary for a reason. At the National Tribal Child Support conference, I attended this past week, there was some frank discussion about the fiduciary responsibility the US Government accepted to benefit the Indian Tribes. The federal Indian trust responsibility is also a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on the part of the United States to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well as a duty to carry out the mandates of federal law with respect to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages. For those who didn’t know, between 1785 and 1871, the U.S. entered into nearly 400 treaties with Indian tribes.  The goal of the United States in signing these treaties was to obtain Indian land without further bloodshed.  In exchange, the tribes received a set of promises.  Almost every treaty tribe was promised that its sovereignty (right to govern themselves), remaining lands, and its people would be protected by the United States.  In several cases discussing the trust responsibility, the Supreme Court has used language suggesting that it entails legal duties, moral obligations, and the fulfillment of understandings and expectations that have arisen over the entire course of the relationship between the United States and the federally recognized tribes. According to the US Supreme Court the federal Indian trust responsibility is a legal obligation under which the United States “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility and trust” toward Indian tribes (Seminole Nation vs. United States, 1942).

When talking with Tribal leaders, members and government agencies it becomes apparent that there have been many times the US Government failed to act in a fiduciary manner, and instead sought its own benefit to the detriment of American Indians and Tribes. Like the broken trust experienced by the American Indians all of us have trusted in someone or something that has let us down. Sometimes the “let down” causes embarrassment (your friend tells everyone about your secret crush), other times it can lead to significant physical and emotional trauma including death (think abuse by a parent or spouse).

As Christians we are blessed to have our trust placed in God. One who is faithful even if we are not (2 Timothy 2:13). Paul explains this concept even further in Romans 3:1-8. In this passage Paul explains that even though the Jews were entrusted with the “oracles” of God they were still unfaithful—but their unfaithfulness does not nullify God’s faithfulness. No matter what we do—God doesn’t change. He is present and faithful when we do right and when we sin. He is there when we acknowledge Him and when we choose to doubt His existence. God is faithful no matter what. It is exactly as the Psalmist, in Psalms 36:5, declared, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Let us be forever grateful for the faithfulness of our God.

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