By Tim Eberly
The Rocky Boy Indian Reservation switched financial institutions last week, resulting in the delayed distribution of employment checks for some members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
The Chippewa Cree Business Committee, made up of eight officials and Chairman Alvin Windy Boy, last week notified Wells Fargo Bank that it was transferring its accounts to the U.S. Bank in Havre.
According to Richard Sangrey, Rocky Boy's chief of staff, the decision was in the works for about a month and a half.
"We weren't getting the attention, I guess, from the bank that we should have," said Windy Boy.
Wells Fargo Havre branch president Alan Pearson declined to comment today.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe was associated with Wells Fargo for approximately 12 years. Previously, it was involved with the U.S. Bank, which was called First Bank in the late '80s.
The shift of funds put a temporary speed bump in the reservation's economy, and the Tribal Office was forced to limit the quantity of checks distributed to residents.
"We put a hold on the checks until we were sure we would make a smooth transition," Sangrey said. "We've got so many different programs here on the reservation. We've got to make arrangements to get them wired over."
Rocky Boy has approximately 87 federal and state programs, and 160 tribal employees on the reservation.
"We're keeping checks to a minimum," said Lydia Sutherland, the tribal planner. "We're trying to get things all in place."
Payday for C.J. Ameline, a receptionist at Stone Child College, was supposed to be Thursday. "I didn't get paid until Friday," he said, "because they didn't have the checks ready. There were a few people that were upset about it."
Though some residents were inconvienced, others such as 18-year-old Violet Arkinson and Bob Small, 47, were not affected by the glitches. "I never heard anything. I just came from [the Tribal Office], and it looks like they're running normally," Small said.
"I've never heard anything about" the financial makeover, Arkinson said.
According to Sutherland, the social service programs and general asistance programs were not affected by the bank swap just the reservation's paychecks.
John Chance Houle, the director of social services, said: "Checks are being processed right now. There's probably some rumors out there that people won't get their checks because the tribe switched banks but that's not true."
This week, another change will disrupt the flow of currency. The Tribal Council decided to switch from a weekly pay period to bi-weekly. As a result, no paychecks will be handed out until next week.
"We just decided it would be better office management if we switched to a two-week payroll," Sutherland said.
Sutherland also said some of the federal resources, from which the tribe draws money, are sometimes tardy in sending checks to the reservation.
General assistance checks will continue to be distributed on the 15th and 30th of every month. Sutherland said GA recipients will receive their checks on Thursday.
"That's not related to the payroll," she said. "They should get their checks."