CONCHO, Okla. - In a scene straight out of the 1800s, tipis were erected around the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribal headquarters here. Protesters say they are guarding the building to stop what has been termed as corruption by some tribal officials.
A source close to the tribe said that since the week before Halloween, tribal members demanding accountability from some members of the council and the business committee have occupied the camp. The protesters said they kept all-night vigils around tribal headquarters to make sure that no funny business is going on after the office is closed.
"There were people here at the office until one or two o'clock in the morning," the source said. "There were bills and charges that were made, but not being accounted for. These people want to make sure that it doesn't happen anymore. There usually are only five or six campers who stay all night, but in the daytime the camp is filled with tribal members."
"They were all at odds, five of the business committee members refused to go to the annual meeting," the source said, adding that 197 tribal members attended what is being called the official meeting, while another faction held its own meeting and passed resolutions.
A Dec. 27 meeting will be the official annual meeting for the tribe. At that time the budget and tribal resolutions will be passed. Tribal members have circulated a petition that has validated the upcoming meeting in hopes of preventing another dual meeting situation.
The matter ended up in court and both meetings were considered invalid. Accusations have flown back and forth regarding unaccountable spending by a council member. The source said protesters were peaceful, but planned on staying put until those they believe have been abusing their power are out of office.
"The budget we received from the BIA is only $23,000," the source said, explaining that for the tribe to receive BIA funding, its agricultural program is supposed to be paying into a special account - something that hasn't been happening.
"You should see what I got for my last per capita payment," another tribal member said. "$47!"
It won't be much better this time a source close to the tribe revealed, "This next time it is going to be something like $63."
Rumors circulated that the FBI confiscated financial records from the tribe, but an FBI spokesman said those rumors were untrue. The official FBI stance regarding the Cheyenne-Arapaho controversy is that it would neither confirm nor deny if an investigation was ongoing.
Those close to the tribe can't understand why the FBI isn't confirming what they already know. "The most certainly did take the records," a tribal source said.
The source also said one tribal council member had been removed after a petition was signed by more than 300 tribal members and another petition was circulating for removal of another person.
"There has been no accountability by some of the members of the business committee. These people who are protesting aren't violent, they are just watching to make sure things stay above board.
"It's a political madhouse here! Money was going out and we had no idea to who or for what!"
Chairman James Pedro was unavailable for comment, but another source close to the tribe said he was concerned and supported the protesters and the protection they were providing.
One tribal employee summed it up by saying, "Every day more people come, and more tipis go up. This is a hot bed right now of dissention and political upheaval."