PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Another deadline to pay the Oglala Sioux Tribe's electric bill for the Red Cloud building passed in early June. Still, the lights continued to work.
The building, subject to a Jan. 16 takeover by a group that calls itself the Grassroots Oyate, remains occupied. Tribal government services have been moved to various offices around the town of Pine Ridge. Marlene Heiting, customer service representative for the power company, said the tribe's other accounts are paid in full.
The disconnect notice is the fourth issued by the Nebraska Public Power District in as many months. The notice stated payment was past due on May 30, with a final due date of June 4. The billing also asserted, in bold letters, that it was a "final notice" and promised, that if ignored, service would be disconnected.
As of June 14, the notice had been ignored with apparent impunity, like those that preceded it. All the switches produce light in the building. The unpaid balance for service to the building since the takeover is $4,899.23.
OST Vice Chairman Wilbur Between Lodges declined comment on the unpaid bills except to say he referred the matter to Finance Committee Chairman Mike Her Many Horses.
Heiting also declined comment, referring the matter to Between Lodges.
"Nebraska Public Power did come here, and they inquired about who was going to pay for the bill," Grassroots Oyate spokesman Dale Looks Twice said. "So then we addressed the issue to the BIA superintendent since (he) does have a trust responsibility to the membership of the tribe."
Looks Twice said the matter was referred to a group of elders called the General Counsel which the Grassroots Oyate asserts is the legitimate governing body of the tribe. Looks Twice said the General Counsel met with Superintendent Bob Ecoffey in late May about the questions posed by Nebraska Public Power.
"The BIA superintendent told (the General Counsel) that no one is going to turn the lights off and that he will take care of this situation," Looks Twice said.
In a related matter Golden West Telephone Co. spokesman Dwight Flatt said phone service would continue to the Red Cloud Building in light of a tribal court order Jan. 21. The order enjoins the phone company to continue to provide service to the building.
Ecoffey said he met with the Grassroots Oyate a few weeks ago, but denied saying he would take care of it. "That's not true. I did meet with them, but I did not make a commitment. They called me over there. They were all excited, saying Nebraska Public Power came. And they wanted to know who was going to pay the bill, were they going to shut the lights off?" Ecoffey said."Basically, it was Dale (Looks Twice) kind of creating an uproar.
"What I committed to was to check on it to see what was going on, because I hadn't heard that either the tribe or Nebraska Public Power had made any motion or done anything to shut the lights off.
In the end,the superintendent said he assumed it was a rumor. "You know, it's been a couple of weeks now and they haven't turned the lights off. Really, it's going to be more of a civil dispute between the tribe, the Grassroots Oyate and the power and phone companies when it comes time to pay the bill."