Announcement brings guffaws from St. Marks
The Chippewa Cree Business Committee, the governing body at Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, is supporting a new statewide organization that calls for reform on Montana’s Native reservations.
While the chairman of the statewide group dismissed the tribal leaders support as “total baloney,” a Chippewa Cree spokesman said tribal government strongly backs reform.
Ken Blatt St. Marks said he was a the chair of the group that will lobby for reforms on the state’s seven reservations and has support from seven tribes. The tribal government has been working for months to prevent St. Marks from being sworn in as tribal chair.
The elections committee is fighting a tribal court ruling that cleared the way for St. Marks to be sworn in.
The tribal leadership has vowed to remove St. Marks from office for a second time if he is again installed as chair.
St. Marks said he and his supporters laughed when they read the business committee’s post on the tribe’s Facebook page.
“Do they know who is chair of this group,” he asked. “The guy they are trying to get rid of.”
St. Marks said tribal leadership wants him out of office because he is cooperating with federal officials in an investigation of tribal corruption.
A tribal councilman was charged in the probe, but charges were dismissed. The head of the health program is awaiting trial and a former Montana state representative, also a former council member, and his wife are awaiting trial, as are several off-reservation people who allegedly worked with tribal officials to syphon federal funds from the tribe’s coffers.
But Larry R. Denny, tribal spokesman, said tribal leadership has long favored cracking down on corruption and has put in place procedures to eliminate any illegal activities.
“I’m not sure about the management structure of this group,” he said. “But we support its goals.”
He said the tribe has worked with federal officials who are investigating corruption.
Denny said that “the tribe fully cooperates with all federal inquiries,” and is working with federal agents probing “Chippewa Cree Construction Corp., social services programs, and the Rocky Boy Health Board.”
“We have a system in play that will deal with these issues,” he said.
He said tribal officials have been reluctant to talk about their involvement in the investigation because it might impede the probe.
“They (federal officials) don’t give a report at the end of the day saying this is who we talked to and this is what we learned,” he said. “We will just have to wait and let it runs it course. When it is over, they will issue a report.”
He said the federal investigation and the political discord have taken attention away from the many positive things that have taken place at Rocky Boy over the years.
“I’m 65,” he said. “And I remember when all we had at Rocky Boy was dirt roads.”
Today, the reservation has good schools, an improved housing stock, paved roads and good recreational activities, he said.
“Are we satisfied?” he asked. “No, we’ll probably never be satisfied, but it’s a lot better than it was.”