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Allegations of tribal corruption are aired

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By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
© 2009 Native Sun News

October 26, 2009

Casinos have proven to be a tremendous asset to the Indian nations, but it seems they have also served as one of the greatest sources of temptation to tribal leaders and members.

This week I have received letters of complaint by members of several tribes questioning the honesty of their leaders. The old saying, "Where there's smoke, there's fire," may appropriately be applied in some of these cases.

There seems to be some smoke wafting from the casino of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe in northeastern South Dakota. The following note appeared on the op-ed page in the Fargo (N.D.) Forum and describes a situation now boiling on that reservation:

LEAFY SPURGE: To the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribal Council, which recently fired the chief executive of their gaming enterprise after he reported a string of bad checks written by the manager of Dakota Magic Casino and other evidence of malfeasance, including self-dealing and conflicts of interest. Michael Roberts asked for "whistle-blower" protection but was fired on the pretext that he'd overstepped his authority by hiring an outside law firm. It won't wash. The authorities now are looking into matters - and the council now is attacking Roberts for making his allegations public; instead the council should open up and allow the sun to shine, and then take corrective action.

And a local newspaper in Oklahoma reported this incident:

Today, Dawena Pappan, 39, of Ponca City, Oklahoma, pled guilty before United States District Judge Robin Cauthron to embezzling funds from the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma, announced Robert J. Troester, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.
Pappan, who is a member of the Tonkawa Tribe, served as the Tribe's Secretary-Treasurer and was a member of the Tribe's Business Committee from mid-1999 through mid-2008. Today, she pled guilty to having worked with other tribal officers from April 2005 through April 2008 to take several hundred thousand dollars of proceeds from the Tribes casino operations for their personal use, rather than legitimate tribal activities.

At sentencing, Pappan faces up to five years in federal prison plus a $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution. A sentencing hearing has been set for January 20, 2010, at 9:00 a.m.
I have also heard of turmoil in the Comanche Nation also in Oklahoma. Here is an email to that affect:
The Comanche Nation of Oklahoma has been losing millions of dollars each year for a long time. The amount is probably around $100 million by now and climbing. The citizens of the Nation really have no recourse for action and cannot get answers from the elected leadership. The membership feels paralyzed. Of course audits come back clean, but many know that's not the case. Federal courts will not touch Indian issues because of our mythical sovereignty, and we surely do not want to go into state courts because of states' rights, esp. here in Oklahoma.
For more (unverified info), go to comanchenationforum. It will give you an idea of what's going on.

And what is that smoke coming from the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota? There is more than one tribal member asking serious questions:

Word came out last that two tribal officials were indicted on embezzlement charges....... Resource Center for rehab employees could not cash paychecks. Banks refused to honor them. A firefighter working on controlled burn went to get gas for fire truck and tribal credit card was denied. Trash piling up by dumpsters, one end of tribal building yesterday was closed. They claimed swine flu and that they were wiping it down. An audit was done last week while big Whigs were at NCAI. Apparently there is now a freeze on all tribal funds/spending/payroll
Check out www.elbowoods.com INNER VOICE is a group trying to combat the corruption.

In fairness to Chairman Marcus D. Levings of the Three Affiliated Tribes, he did send out a response to the latest charges. In part his press release read:

I want to reassure the membership that at no time was the Tribe without adequate funds to pay our employees, our bills and to provide those services which our members rely on. Payroll was released today and the arbitration judgment that was levied against us was satisfied. While we are extremely dissatisfied with the outcome of that arbitration and the extreme measures taken against the Tribe and our enrolled members, it is an issue that needed to be addressed in order for the Tribe to continue its duty to provide governmental services to our members, our elders and the many people who rely on the Three Affiliated Tribes.

So like I said, there is an awful lot of smoke out there just smoldering and ready to ignite. Having covered tribal politics for 30 years I know as a fact that every tribal government has its dissenters and some dissent for good reasons and others for personal reasons. Perhaps the powers-that-be can take a look at what is in this column, for starters, and separate the chaff from the wheat. Perhaps some of these folks aren't complaining just to exercise their lungs. Where there's smoke there's fire and where there's money, there's temptation.

(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at editor@nsweekly.com)