I want to thank all of the readers who have e-mailed me about this story
and apologize for the long break since the last in this series. During the
past few months much has gone on with Emily Saupitty, the Apache 'Erin
Brockovich' and her battle against Big Oil and state and the federal
government for royalties owed Indian and non-Indian landowners in Oklahoma.
ANADARKO, Okla. - The majority of tribal governments in Indian country have
a deep respect for their elders. It is through the elders that wisdom and
traditions are passed from generation to generation. They are esteemed and
given assistance by not only tribal members but by tribal governments as
well. But tribal elders who are members of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma
don't believe they are receiving the assistance they need from their tribe,
many believe that tribal officials are only seeing to their own needs and
forgetting about those they supposed to working for.
A group of elders and other tribal members who own allotted land are asking
for help from both the Apache tribal government and the Bureau of Indian
Affairs in making the oil companies that they insist have made money for
years off their land, pay them what they are owed. But instead of finding
help through the tribal and federal government; they are finding roadblocks
and red tape and that has been stopping them at every turn. In desperation
they have made Emily Saupitty, now known as the 'Apache Erin Brockovich',
their spokeswoman, hoping that through her, their voice will finally be
During the last part of June, a group of the Apache Bromide Unit royalty
owners met at the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma's headquarters. Most were
elderly women and men and although a senior citizens building sat nearby,
they pulled chairs onto the sidewalk.
"We met here before and they said we couldn't meet if we were discussing
our royalties," Arliss Washee explained, pointing to the building.
"If we do go inside, they come by and want to know why we are there," Tanya
Bandaras, a young member who came to support the elders said. "We just tell
them we are visiting with the elders so they don't kick us out."
"We did ask about meeting in the recreation center," Rosalie Neconie
stated. "But they told us that it would cost us $100 and then so much an
hour and we can't afford that, so we just meet here."
Their sister Leatrich Archilta, an amputee in a wheelchair, soon joined
Arliss and Rosalie. "I had to wait for a ride here," she said simply. The
three sisters, life-long residents of the Apache Bromide Unit have had
restraining orders against them by the Apache tribe's secretary/treasurer.
"I guess she thought I might run over her with my wheelchair," Leatrich
laughed as she rolled her chair forward a few inches.
But talk got serious when the group began discussing not only the financial
loss they had suffered, but also the health concerns for those living on
the land. Arliss has lupus and another sister has cancer. "Lots of people
out there are getting sick," Arliss said.
"Our dogs die," Rosalie said. "It is like they live for a while on the land
and then they just suddenly drop over dead. We used to have rats, but we
don't even have them around now."
Sandra Marguin said she remembered when there used to be wildlife in the
area, but as more and more oil wells were drilled the wildlife just seemed
to disappear. No livestock was on the land at all she said.
Rosalie, now a widow, remembered an incident that occurred when her husband
was still alive. "There was a man out there who worked for one of the oil
companies," she recalled. "He called my husband over and said 'You better
really watch what is going on here and keep track of what they are doing'.
When my husband asked what he meant he just repeated himself, we never saw
him again, but now I know what he was trying to tell us about watching what
they were taking from our land and making them account for it."
One of their spokeswomen, Millie Tapedo had just finished trying to get
information from the Apache Tribe's tribal administrator, Bobby Jay,
regarding the status of the tribal government. In March at a general
council meeting the tribe's chairman and secretary/treasurer were removed,
as was part of the business committee, which was originally formed to help
with issues like those facing the royalty owners, something the royalty
owners say hasn't been the case. Tapedo had walked away from the meeting
without any answers.
When Tapedo told the group about her meeting one woman just shook her head.
"He knows what is going on," she said. "Around here we call him the
An attorney who had worked with the Cobell attorneys was supposed to meet
with them on this day, but the group didn't have the funding to pay a
retainer, so that was put on hold. "We have all the documentation, unlike
the Cobell case," Tapedo said. "We are ready to collect but we don't have
the money for an attorney to help us with this."
So with no attorney for them to talk to the group tried to get Apache Vice
Tribal Chairman Nathan Tselee to meet with them, but were told he was out
While the group patiently waited on the sidewalk, Tapedo, Saupitty and
Marguin traveled across town to speak with BIA Anadarko Agency
Superintendent Betty Tippaconnie to try and get answers about why the BIA
was 'sticking its nose in tribal government issues' and why the royalty
owners were not receiving assistance from the Office of Trust Management.
As the door opened, the vice chairman who was supposed to out of town,
stepped out, holding the minutes from the March 20 meeting Tapedo had been
trying to get.
When Saupitty requested a copy of the minutes Tselee agreed to have copies
made at the BIA office for her. They were told that it would cost them a
dollar a page. But as Saupitty's back was turned a shake of the head from
Tippaconnie stopped the exchange from happening.
Tselee suddenly had to leave to have the minutes transcribed from long hand
before he would give them to Saupitty and left the building. As Saupitty
and her group entered to meet with Tippaconnie, Tippaconnie insisted that
Indian Country Today could not take a camera or tape recorder into the
meeting and tried to bar the door and prevent a member of the press from
hearing what was said behind closed doors. "They don't want people to know
how they treat us," Saupitty said flatly.
She proudly walked into the office, documents in hand ready to fight the
(Continued in Part Five: How the Anadarko BIA office reacted to a meeting
with the royalty owners and an attorney contracted by the tribe to collect
taxes from the oil companies goes on the record about the double dealing
and calls for a federal investigation into the obstruction and "collusion"
between Big Oil, members of the Apache tribal government and the federal