Oglala council critical of BIA

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WANBLEE, S.D. - In a session that began with shouts and recriminations over a local district election, the Oglala Lakota Tribal Council met with BIA officials here to discuss a first draft audit of the tribe's 1999 general fund records.

The audit has caused tension between the council and the BIA. Council representatives claimed they were illegally bypassed when the audit was undertaken. Officials from the Great Plains Area Office in Aberdeen countered, saying they acted on a January resolution passed by the tribe's executive committee requesting the audit. That executive committee is made up of the president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary and a fifth member.

Voices were raised on both sides over fact the audit involved the tribe's general fund which receives no federal money. Siding with the council, treasurer Chuck Jacobs said the tribal constitution only allows the executive committee to carry out "routine daily operations. Gutting and laying bare the tribe's internal financial records to the federal government hardly qualifies as routine."

Repeated council representatives charged that the appearance of the audit was sudden, and may have been politically motivated.

"I have been here under more pleasant circumstances it is very serious. We were not trying to interfere with your political system here. The audit is totally separate," said Area Director Cora Jones.

"Maybe Ms. Jones is not up on our constitution and bylaws. To release such documents, you have to be in contact with this governing body," said Medicine Root District Councilman Manuel Fool Head. "That communication wasn't allowed ... The timing of this is questionable."

Pine Ridge Agency Superintendent Bob Ecoffey reminded the council that all of the tribe's 638 programs were in high-risk status. This status, and not politics was what motivated the bureau, he said.

BIA area contracts officer Richard Zephier said there was a lack of checks and balances in the tribe's finance system and a lack of documentation concerning expenditures in its 638 program contracts.

"Something has to be done. The audit shows that further corrections and recommendations need to be made. Hopefully we can work with you. Right now, you do not have the three systems certified to receive funds ? that is a problem. Your programs are already on high risk-so there is evidence of a problem."

Councilman Gerald "Jump" Big Crow raised the possibility the BIA could be subjected to legal action, "Never in all my years have I had this procedure followed in conducting an audit. We haven't had a chance to meet with you people to correct these deficiencies Mr. Zephier, you guys are asking for a lawsuit here the biggest lawsuit the bureau here has ever seen."

Big Crow went on to say that BIA officials present owed the council an apology. "I feel someone's trying to bring the tribal government to its knees."

"Are we going to work this out today, or are we going to get an ultimatum?" asked Pine Ridge Village Councilman G. Wayne Tapio. "Right now it's a major thing because you're shaking up a lot of people. To bring this today, after we agreed a month ago to work with you ? we're under a lot of pressure people. We've got other things to think about.

"They say they've written us. I don't know a single councilmen that's received a letter. We'll go ahead and hear them (the BIA officials) out, but that's the history. I wish there was a different way we could have found out , but that's too late," Tapio said.

Cora Jones, attempting to defuse criticism, said the reason they were attending the meeting was to correct the deficiencies uncovered in the audit.

Later, tribal vice-chairman Wilbur Between Lodges asked the council to direct that John Donham, the tribe's Certified Public Accountant for the past 16 years, be made available to help the tribe respond to the audit.

"It's my understanding that he's quit, and that he's no longer available, but we're going to ask him a lot of questions," Ecoffey said.

"It's not our function to see that someone goes to jail. Our function is to see that you guys get back into a certified system. We're not here to indict, to say that anyone has done wrong."

Jaime C. Arobba, the CPA who prepared the audit for the BIA, led the council and tribal members through an overview of the audit. Arobba said the audit revealed the tribe incurred a $1.4 million deficit during the subject period. Before revealing further deficiencies, Arobba requested that the council go into executive session.

"Why start now?" asked Wounded Knee Councilmen Mike Her Many Horses. "If we go into executive session now, people are going to say we're trying to hide something. I say, let's put it all out there."

The decision was made to have Arobba address the council the following day, during a Finance Committee meeting.

"The whole tribe is going through a crisis and I want to deal with the issues. I don't want to deal in character assassination, that's very unLakota to do that. You're all . I'm working for you. I'm not working for the council, I'm working for all of you," Arobba said.

"You work for the federal government, not for the tribe," said tribal attorney Pete Caposella. "I just want to make that straight. It's the BIA that hired you. You seem to be confused about whom you're doing the audit for."