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Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal Members Demanding Answers to Devastating Internal Dispute

Members of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma are reeling after a near-riot that broke out at the tribes’ headquarters on March 31, left part of the facility in shambles, and an ongoing dispute with no end in sight. The conflict seems to have been escalating since December 2010, after the tribes’ elected Lt. Governor, Leslie Wandrie-Harjo accused the elected Tribal Governor Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell of concealing tribal financial records and refusing to obey court orders.

Wandrie-Harjo sought a tribal court order to suspend Boswell from office and place her in control of the executive branch. Boswell regarded the court order as illegal and refused to leave. She then went about conducting business as usual, while Wandrie-Harjo and her supporters set up temporary offices in El Reno.

The roots of the trouble, however, may be traced back to economic issues that arose during the previous governor’s administration.

In 2009, Boswell and her running mate Wandrie-Harjo challenged the re-election campaign of Governor Darrell Flyingman. During his tenure, the former governor found himself increasingly at odds with tribal members and officials over shoddy accounting of funds for social service programs, support money provided by the tribe’s lucrative casino profits.

Flyingman claimed innocence, citing an audit conducted by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) which he believed cleared him of wrong doing. Before he could finish his term, however, his opponents changed the locks on his office door. Invoking “traditional laws, older than the Constitution,” together with BIA and tribal law enforcement officers, they blocked him from entering the tribal complex.

Boswell and Wandrie-Harjo defeated Flyingman in the 2009 election and in January, they were seated as Governor and Lt. Governor respectively. But over the next few months, their partnership soured and within weeks, the two were locked in a cold war.

In seeking her suspension, Wandrie-Harjo filed a dozen complaints against Boswell, including illegal removal of tribal officials from office, particularly Tribal Court Chief Judge Bob Smith. Boswell, however, claimed Smith left office of his own volition. Regarding the Lt. Governor, Boswell contends that she never ordered Wandrie-Harjo to leave, but merely asked her to take a week off to calm down and reflect on her insubordinate attitude.

Wandrie-Harjo also claimed that Boswell had engaged in media censorship, removing a reporter from the Tribal Tribune staff who described the Governor’s administration unfavorably. Boswell, however, accused the reporter of lacking professional objectivity, stating that the articles she produced were polemic and designed to create controversy.

Wandrie-Harjo’s biggest complaint was that Boswell was withholding information about the tribe’s financial standing. The Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes own and operate four casinos including their two small Feather Warrior Casinos in Canton and Watonga, Oklahoma, and two lavish Lucky Star Casinos in Clinton, and Concho, Oklahoma. While in 2008, the NIGC reported that the tribes had earned nearly $53.5 million dollars in revenue in the two prior years, Wandrie-Harjo complained that the tribes were “operating a multimillion dollar enterprise and government in the blind.”

Boswell said there had been no mismanagement on her part, but that she had simply been attempting to stabilize matters after the corrupt handling of financial affairs under the Flyingman administration. Wandrie-Harjo’s actions, she added, were the result of a quest for power, and she called her supporters a “group of rogues.” In turn, Wandrie-Harjo insisted that Boswell had been suspended by action of the Tribal Court, and that as a result, she became the legally-acting Governor, a statement that Boswell staunchly refuted.

Boswell’s office reported that on March 31, Wandrie-Harjo and Michael Kodaseet, a member of the tribes’ Third Legislature, led an assault on the tribe’s headquarters, “armed with bolt cutters, hammers, and crowbars.” The report claimed that in the foray, tribal property, furniture, doors, and windows were destroyed. According to the Boswell report, the object of the attack was to take over the executive office and obtain financial and other critical business information from the tribe’s networking system. Kodaseet, however, claimed it was merely an attempt at a “smooth transition” by the “lawfully-seated” governor, Wandrie-Harjo.

In response to the conundrum, 150 members of the tribes have filed a petition to conduct a special meeting of the tribal council to make some decisions as to who is running the government. Area Bureau of Indian Affairs officials say they will eventually intervene if the tribes cannot reach a settlement, or if any laws are broken. Tribal members hope, however, that the matter can be settled within the tribe without need of bringing in outside agencies. The meeting will be held on Saturday, May 7, at 10 a.m. at the Concho Community Hall in Concho, Oklahoma.