A statewide organization of Native Americans to fight corruption on the state’s Indian reservations was formed at a meeting in Havre Wednesday night.
Representatives of five of seven reservations took part in the meeting at TownHouse Inn of Havre. People from the other two Indian reservations, Fort Beck and Northern Cheyenne, are also interested in taking part in the effort.
The consensus of Wednesday’s meeting was that corruption within reservations and violations of Native American civil rights are two of the biggest problems facing Montana Indians. Generally, the people represented dissident groups that have been fighting tribal power structures on their reservations.
They blamed corruption within the tribal leadership, lack of respect for Native American cultural values and the reluctance of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to do anything about thievery on reservations.
They will meet next week and define exactly what they think should be done.
Among other things, several Montana Native American leaders plan to speak in front of the U.S. Senate Select Subcommittee on Indian Affairs later this month.
Representatives of each reservation Wednesday night told their stories about problems on the reservations.
“The stories sound alike, don’t they?” said Bill Old Chief of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
Old Chief said oil companies are unwilling to come into the reservation and provide much-needed revenue because of the disarray in tribal leadership.
Three Blackfeet members who spoke, blamed the problem on State Sen. Shannon Augare, a Blackfeet Tribal Council member. They said said he was a power behind the scenes.
Leon Veale, who has long been involved in the Blackfeet dissident movement, praised federal officials for charging Augare with driving under the influence, saying he was hiding behind Indian sovereignty laws in trying to avoid prosecution.
Well-intentioned people have been elected to tribal council, they said, but they have been forced out of office by the old guard.
When Rocky Boy’s Ken Blatt St. Marks, the host of the meeting, introduced himself, he said “I’m chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe ... then I’m not. Then I am. Then I’m not.”
He told the story of his disputes with the tribal establishment and their efforts to get him removed from office.
“When I was elected, I knew there was a little corruption that needs to be cleaned up,” he said. “I had no idea how much.”
He told the story of his decision to be cooperative with FBI and other investigative agencies and the reaction of other reservation leaders.
St. Marks said allegations have been made against his integrity and death threats have been made against him.
Cedric Black Eagle of the Crow Reservation spoke to the crowd via telephone.
He said there is growing discontent with corruption on reservations, and rank-and-file people are sick of being seen as corrupt.
But the Bureau of Indian Affairs has done nothing of combat corruption.
BIA has a $2.2 billion budget, he said. Out of every dollar, he said, 87 cents goes to pay for administrative costs. Thirteen cents goes to direct assistance to tribes.
There was especially discontent with BIA regional director Ed Parisian, a Rocky Boy native who oversees all Montana tribes except Flathead.
St. Marks said when he reported corrupt activities to Parisian, he told him there was nothing he could do because Rocky Boy was a sovereign nation.
“That’s not true,” he said. “I am a taxpayer, too, just like everybody else. This is my money being squandered.”