Courtesy Justin Franz
Tribal elder is arrested during Blackfeet protest of tribal government’s misuse of federal funds.

Tired of Corruption, Mont. Tribal Members and the Guardians Fight Back

Adrian Jawort
11/26/13

Tribal self-governance is a process that continues to be a struggle among some of the 566 federally recognized tribes resulting in tens of millions of taxpayer dollars misappropriated according to an independent Associated Press review.

The AP review, through obtained internal tribal audits and documents, has found that tribal governments, schools or housing authorities had 1 in 4 material weaknesses in their federally funded programs creating opportunities for abuses. That figure is drastically higher than the 1 in 20 rate for nontribal programs.

The review points to multiple reasons leading to the misappropriations, including theft or fraud, but the auditors suggested the majority of it was due to mismanagement. This is often a result of unqualified handlers controlling the millions of federal dollars the tribe receives each year.

Sergio Maldonado, a Northern Arapaho member and diversity coordinator at Central Wyoming College in Riverton told the AP that there are four goals for a successful tribal government – “academic preparation, professional experience, a collective consensus for the benefit of the tribe and an ethical set of guidelines.”

However, for the last two years the Montana Guardians Project has been at the forefront of fighting against corrupt tribal governments.

Michael Cotter with the Montana United States Attorney’s Office heads the Guardians along with close cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service.

He says, “As the [Guardians] developed, the U.S. Attorney’s conclusions that a serious public integrity issue existed was validated – repeatedly – by complaints from residents of Indian country who knew that much of the money coming to the reservation community was not getting to the people it was designed to help.”

RELATED: Montana Guardians Project Aims to Deter Indian Country Corruption

In 2013 alone:

--On the Crow Indian Reservation, seven were convicted in a double billing scheme totaling more than $500,000 dollars. And not just money was the cost as ultimately a priceless sacred bison site was dug up under the schemers’ watch as they were in charge of the tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

RELATED: Sacred Bison Honoring Site Destroyed for Coal Underneath

--In north central Montana’s Rocky Boy reservation, construction was halted for a $361 million water pipeline project after five indictments of tribal members allegedly claimed $311,000 diverted from $33 million in stimulus money received via shell companies and money laundering according to the Missoulian.

--Further west on the Blackfeet reservation, a $9.3 million Po’Ka Project designated to help at risk youths through 2005-2011 became defunct after years of mismanagement the Billings Gazette reported. There was allegedly $4.6 million lost over those years via doctored invoices to make it seem as if the program was still efficient among other kickback schemes, according Cotter.

But the Guardians aren’t the only ones demanding accountability. This year 5 of 7 Montana tribes were represented by a loose coalition of tribes against corruption in early October – while the other two tribes expressed interest in joining the Havre Daily News reported.

One of those fighting against local corruption, Byron Farmer, was actually arrested for a July “Blackfeet Against Corruption” Facebook page post lambasting his tribe’s government. According to the Missoulian, 15 officers came to arrest him on a July trip to his home reservation.

RELATED: Blackfeet Man Jailed for Speaking Out, Hits Back Harder

After spending five days in jail, he was apparently vindicated in his Facebook postings as five people were indicted in the alleged Po’Ka Project scheme just a few weeks later in early August.

“Americans may not understand the mysterious inner workings of Indian country, but they sure as hell understand what free speech is.“ Farmer says. “My arrest was the trigger that finally swung around the big national media spotlight to shine right on the Blackfeet Reservation, where it caught tribal leadership speechless, embarrassed, and scurrying.”

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
More and more grass roots groups are uniting to stand up to corruption in Tribal government. It is sometimes difficult to reach into the web of dishonesty, but if native people will be persistent, Tribal government can become more transparent and accountable to the people it is constructed to serve.

WANBLDI's picture
WANBLDI
Submitted by WANBLDI on
THE U.S. HAS ENCOURAGES THIS THROUGH IRA TRIBAL OPPRESSIVE AND REPRESSIVE U.S. GATEKEEPES GOVERNMENTS TO MAINTIAN THE CONTROL OF THE ORIGINAL FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES AND AUTHETNIC TRADITIONAL INDEPENDENT SOVEREIGN GOVERNMENTS TO STEAL THE LAST OF OUR ORIGINAL DIVINE INTINSIC ABORIGINAL HOMELAND'S AND FROM BEING REALIZED AS A OPTION OF PEACE, TRUTH AND JUSTICE AND A POLITICAL THREAT AND COUNTER TO THEIR U.S. FEDERAL GENOCIDAL INDIAN POLICIES TO THEIR INDIAN PROBLEM! THE BIA AND IRA INDIAN TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS ENGENDERS THIS KIND OF OUT COME, AND THE FEDERAL AGENCY HAVE FOREVER HAS PERPETUATED THIS KIND OF OUT COME AND POWER, KNOWING THESE IRA LEADERS THAT THEIR SYSTEM MUNIPULATES IN BY MONEY, VIOLENCE, LIE'S, GREED AND FAVORS, ONLY TO DIVIDE AND STOP OUR ORIGINAL INDENITIES AS AUTHENTIC TRADITONAL SOVEREIGN INDEPENDENT GOVERNMENTS THAT ARE FREE AND MORAL AND ETHICAL FAMILY, COMMUNITY, NATIONHOOD'S, AS THE ONLY OPTIONS OF U.S. SYSTEMATIC INTENTIONAL GENOCIDE OF ALL FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES AND OUR INTRINSIC COVENANT AND RED TRADTIONAL ORIGNAL HOMELAND'S OF ALL FIRST NATIONS PEOPLE'S OF THIS WESTERN HEMSHPHERE!

curtj's picture
curtj
Submitted by curtj on
As Indigenous who see our resources and lands stolen by the descendants of the illegal European aliens, it makes me angry to see our people just as corrupt as the non natives. in Alaska I hear of Tribal Administrators using their Tribes credit cards for rooms full of furniture, trips to Hawaii and sending general assistance to their relatives living in the lower 48. It's bad enough that we're losing what we have left, but to put up with corrupt members of our Tribes is like a slap in the face. Before our philosophy used to be for the Tribe, now it's fragmenting up into, Me Me Mine. I read somewhere that in a couple lower 48 Tribe, Tribal big wigs stole millions that would have benefited their Tribes. And with no accountability, there was no planned investigation or prosecution, plus the Tribes reapplied for the same amount of money and received it.
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