Attorney contracted by the tribe calls for federal investigation
ANADARKO, Okla. - Confusion and refusals to communicate with royalty owners
from the Apache Bromide Unit by both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the
Apache Tribe of Oklahoma's governing body has caused a jumble of
misinformation and endless court hearings. Although the Apache tribal
chairman and secretary/treasurer were removed from office by referendum
during the annual general council meeting they are still being recognized
by the Anadarko BIA Agency as officials of the tribal government.
All of the questions asked by Indian Country Today regarding who exactly is
in charge of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma were referred to BIA offices in
Washington, D.C.; neither office would answer the question as to whether or
not Emily Saupitty is the tribe's tax commissioner. Tribal Vice Chairman,
Nathan Tselee stated that he would not discuss the matter with "outsiders."
When Emily Saupitty, Millie Tapedo and Sandra Marguin met to discuss both
issues with Anadarko Agency Superintendent Betty Tippaconnie, any hopes
they had for getting even simple answers were dashed.
As Saupitty and Tapedo brought up question after question to Tippaconnie,
they were repeatedly told to "put it in writing and send" to Tippaconnie.
When Saupitty held up an envelope of correspondence that she had already
sent that had been returned to her by the office she asked Tippaconnie what
use it was to send information if it was only going to be returned
unanswered. Tippaconnie's response was silence.
One question Saupitty wanted answered was why the BIA was stepping in at
all. "Aren't you [the BIA] little more than a place for us to archive our
records?" she asked Tippaconnie. Saupitty was rewarded with a nod of
agreement, but a refusal to answer the next question Saupitty posed, asking
if that were the case, why was the BIA interfering in a tribal governmental
matter by not formally recognizing the removal of the two tribal officials
during the March General Council meeting.
"We are a treaty tribe with our own constitution," Tapedo reminded
Tippaconnie. "But what we are really here for is to find out why we can't
get the BIA to uphold our trust issues. Our people need the money that
comes from our royalties and the taxes from that. Why aren't we getting any
help from either the tribe or from the BIA? We shouldn't have to have the
BIA interfering with matters that follow our constitution. We are a
sovereign nation and the people have spoken on that."
Tapedo continued with a plea for help for the royalty owners, but walked
away with no answers.
The shroud of secrecy has been a continuing issue that royalty owners have
had to fight since they began standing up to assert their rights and ask
for the monies due to them.
Attorney Dennis Chappabitty was contracted by the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
to assist Emily Saupitty in her position as tax commissioner for the tribe
to help collect taxes owed by big oil companies. But as Chappabitty became
more and more involved in the project he began to see what he believes is
government corruption that starts at the tribal level and leads directly to
the White House. Chappabitty also said he can see an old pattern that has
pitted Indian against Indian for the benefit of the government.
"It is a shame. Don't forget that we have some big powers that are trying
to pit Indian against Indian," he said. "It is plainly evidenced that they
[the Apache Tribe] are doing a pretty good job of it."
Chappabitty has a contract with the Apache Business Committee to serve as
special council to the Apache Tax Commission and has been privy to
documents and able to observe the changing face of the original attitude
the tribe had in backing the royalty owners.
He also sees a wall of silence and non-cooperation coming from the BIA's
Anadarko Agency. "Betty Tippaconnie has been very negative toward our
efforts with dealing with the problems with Magnum Hunter and some of the
discrepancies we have identified," he said. "It is my contention, without
any further proof, that she needs to hide, continue to hide those problems.
Therefore she is willing to put in and support a tribal governance that is
basically controlled by lawyers and basically controlled by the oil
From documents Chappabitty has seen, there has been a great deal of
information going back and forth from the attorneys the tribe hired, Andrew
Davis and the oil company lawyers.
"The Andrew Davis lawyers never contacted me to discuss the details of the
case," Chappabitty continued. "Or to discuss the stance we were taking
against Magnum Hunter. They never contacted me or even bothered to ask me
about it. It is awfully funny that they come in here and want to knock
Emily and me out of the loop and Andrew Davis should be defending us. We
were wearing the cloak of tribal sovereignty when we did these things
[attempted to collect taxes for the tribe owed to them by Magnum Hunter].
Instead they are trying to feed us to Magnum Hunter. I think that that
right there tells me that there is some scheme between those two law firms.
They have put Emily and me into the worst possible position so we can't
advocate for the tribal taxing authority on lands that are within the
"Their taxing method is legitimate; the federal government has adopted it
on [unitized] land that is federal. To have Andrew Davis to come and not
even try to find out what we had been doing and taking sides with Magnum
Hunter verges on an unethical type of representation."
Currently the Apache Tribe is in a lawsuit initiated by Magnum Hunter
disputing the amount of taxes the oil company believes they owe the tribe.
Chappabitty said he had never received any documentation telling him to
work with anyone other than Emily Saupitty as the tax commissioner. What
information he has gotten is that the three women who have been named as
replacements for Saupitty were unaware that they were even supposed to be
doing the job.
From what Chappabitty has observed, he has begun to question the fact that
if the tribe isn't getting what it is supposed to in the taxation question,
what about the individual royalty owners.
"If Magnum Hunter is not paying its due amount to the tribe, there is a
high likelihood that they are not paying it over in the correct amount to
the royalty owners," he said. "The BIA has a trust responsibility along
with Minerals Management to monitor the individual royalty owners' leases
and make sure that everything is in compliance. But we have found out that
there are numerous questions about the individual royalty owners' leases
being breeched. It serves for someone to help cover things up so no one
will be liable to the individual royalty owners."
Chappabitty said he had yet to find anything factual pointing toward
governmental corruption, but added that, "It sure smells to a great degree
that it is."
In the meantime he is urging individual royalty owners to get letters out
to Minerals Management to demand an auditing. He is writing to the U.S.
Attorney to investigate the matter.
What really concerns Chappabitty is the lack of assistance from the federal
government that he believes should be involved in assisting in the
individual royalty owners rather than ignoring them.
Any day Chappabitty said he and Saupitty expect to be served with a
complaint in federal court against them. "We haven't been served yet," he
said. "But when we do we are going to turn it back around and make a
counter claim of racketeering and corrupt organizations act, civil claim
and counter sue them to let them know that we believe that this an artfully
drawn deceptive effort to knock Emily and I out and ruin the tribe's
business interest and it is being done in a manner that involves mail
fraud; wire fraud and various other things."
With over a $1 billion at stake for a small number of royalty owners, the
scope of the amount actually owed by oil companies just within the state of
Oklahoma is staggering. Royalty owners are beginning to believe that
silencing them because of the incredible amount of money that may be owed
"I've said this all along," Chappabitty held, "both Indian and non-Indians
are affected. The oil companies don't draw the line with just screwing the
Indians on the royalties. Oil companies don't care who they get. It is
amazing how oil companies can manipulate figures [on] what they get out of
the ground. They call them operating costs, but the royalty owners
shouldn't be bearing the cost of their operating costs.
"I do hope the international community gets very concerned about this
because it is just a repeat of what happens in the jungles of the Amazon
and places where you have impoverished people who are sitting on top of
massive oil reserves. And how the oil companies come in and start throwing
a few bucks around and pitting group against group and finally winding up
with very lucrative leases and figuring since we got it out from under them
we can start paying them just a few pennies when we should be paying them a
lot of money."
(Continued in Part Six: The lawsuits)