FORT THOMPSON, S.D. ? Tribal members filed a petition asking the federal government to put the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe into receivership and manage the tribe's funds until it gets out of debt.
A group of tribal members called the Lakes of the Brave, headed by Menia Mann and Vernon Ashley circulated a petition that they claim carries signatures of more than 40 percent of the eligible voters on the tribe. The petition asks Congress to take corrective action to put the tribe in receivership for a period of six years.
Some news reports said the group wanted the BIA to take over the tribe, but that is not the case, Ashley said. Under a receivership plan the tribe would retain sovereignty and federal recognition status. Ashley said that former tribal leaders and some council members are telling members that the tribe would lose its status.
The group is trying to prevent more borrowing. The current tribal government has plans to borrow nearly $40 million to consolidate its debt. That would be the sensible move, says Roxanne Sazue, former tribal chairperson. The plan is also supported by the Great Plains Area Office of the BIA.
"We are working with the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. We have a quasi-federal monitor there to watch over the 638 contracts. The tribe reports to the Area Office on anything with the 638 contracts," said Cora Jones, area director.
She said the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe was in bad shape over the contracts in the past and it was getting in "dire straits" but has improved to the point that she was ready to recommend taking the tribe off risk status.
The tribe also has its own funds, some generated from the Lodestar Casino, but Jones said she wasn't sure what controls were in place for those.
"Roxanne (Sazue) took a strong stand and put on the skids to spending. Duane (Big Eagle, present chairman) has done the same.
"They need to give (Big Eagle) support and get behind one plan and support that. I have faith that Crow Creek will come through this," Jones said.
The Crow Creek Tribal Council is not in favor of the petition for receivership. Big Eagle and council members were unavailable for comment. However, in a June 17 article in Indian Country Today, Big Eagle mentioned that the financial problems were so grave that if consolidation with a bailout package didn't occur bankruptcy might be an option. He didn't mention receivership. He said that he inherited a $30 million debt when he took office in early May.
Big Eagle suggested that a third party come in to handle the tribe's financial responsibilities and not hand over the job to the federal government or a group from within the tribe.
Ashley said he is afraid the tribe would be in debt for 40 years if some $40 million were borrowed to consolidate the debt. But Jones said the tribe could handle the one loan payment and recover.
'The people told me something had to be done," Ashley said.
"We plan to finalize petition signing this weekend and the get an audience with Congress. We want an interim government with people partly from the tribe and some from out of the tribe. We have to have more qualified people running the tribe, people who want to do something for the people," Ashley said.
Ashley was a tribal leader for eight years following his return from World War II. He served from 1945 to 1954. "Council members never took anything that wasn't theirs. They were good people. Most of the council now are not Indian ? not full bloods," he said.
He said he had not contacted the BIA or Congress about imposing receivership on the tribe.
"The council avoids the gathering of the people. They don't listen. They terminate people and put relatives in jobs and do things no other government would do. When I was tribal leader our pay was for meetings and a little for mileage. I used my own money to go to some meetings outside the reservation. Nowadays the pay they are getting is unheard of in the poorest county in the nation," Ashley said.
Tribal council members and other tribal officials were not available to verify any of the allegations.
More than 3,000 tribal members live on the Crow Creek Reservation located on the Missouri River just north of Chamberlain, S.D. Much of Buffalo County, the poorest county in the nation, is located on the reservation. The county' has a 57 percent poverty rate and an average household income of $12,692.