As a retired engineer with the federal government, I am privileged to get telephone calls and messages about Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation tribal affairs from relations and other tribal members. We talk about the glory days of the Joe DeMontiney era and about sitting tribal council ineptness and rudderless leadership. It appears the sitting tribal leaders are more interested in advancing themselves, and they draw and maintain a salary of $90,000 a year.
I have no insight into what our chairman's daily operations are. Bruce Sunchild has been around tribal politics for quite some time. His management style is quite different than that of my brother, Joe. He has problems with doing a day's work for a day's pay and does not return telephone calls to his constituents. The high level of junkets are still in place under his watch.
When Joe DeMontiney was elected tribal chairman in 1954, Donald Meyers and I made a pitch to him to work closely with Sen. Mike Mansfield, an important leader in the U.S. Senate, and to listen to the elders for advice. Joe was a combat Navy veteran of World War II. He was born in a tent in the Haystack area on the rez, with a poor beginning. His military experience provided him a good leadership profile, and he was a wonderful strategist who certainly merits a place as one of our great tribal leaders. At times he had to fight the Bureau of Indian Affairs paternalism to provide better service to the tribe. He had a liberal and good hand to help him — Raymond Parker, who moved the agenda with grace and fortitude, and they remained good friends in coordinated effort on program planning and establishing fiscal control.
To implement these programs, their salary was chicken feed. Joe got $70 per month, and Raymond as councilman got $5 per meeting. The low salary remained under BIA control until the Self-Determination and Education Act of 1975 was enacted. It was this legislation that forever changed how Native Americans interacted with the federal government. This was a defining moment for Joe. It also drove me into a poor environment. He sold 23 head of my horses to lobby for this legislation before Congress. His crucial role also moved me to go to engineering college under the Korean GI Bill. This education meant I no longer had to be a ranch hand, a job that paid 55 cents per hour. The ranch is now owned by Browning/Cowans in the Clear Creek area. Both Joe and Raymond are now deceased.
To make a fair evaluation of tribal leaders: Chance Houle is one I can chat with, and we can carry on conversations on matters of tribal operations, accountability and junkets. When he was elected tribal chairman in fiscal year 2004, he tackled the hell of a mess that had been left to him by the previous chairman that included failures in financial accountability and aspects of program planning, including excess junkets. He pulled the tribe from the brink with proper accounting practices.
The critics do have a point: Chance at times gets involved in creating jobs for defeated tribal reps without soliciting proposals. For example, Alvin Windy Boy works in the field of archeology. We are puzzled and amused as to his qualifications. The only thing we notice, he is a perennial candidate to regain a seat in the council.
As I circle around and relate what the mandates are, one that stands out is to call a forum as a way to calm the voting public. The forum should entail discussions of matters that their elected official is supposed to address during meetings at council chambers instead of the official announcing he will take their concerns and messages to the full council. This type of action formulated by Stacy Small is beyond us. By this token, he should review his campaign media and reread his slogans. He was not elected to be a messenger boy.
(John DeMontiney is a retired federal engineer and a native of Rocky Boy. He said he is still a Rocky Boy resident at heart although he lives in New Mexico.)