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The Reign of the BIA 'Montana Mafia' Needs to Be Over

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Indian country has suffered for the past three years because the "Montana Mafia" has controlled the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). They have controlled the course of the BIA without regard for the entirety of Indian country. They make decisions that impact Indian country in a negative way. 

I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General, which responded with the following: "We will not initiate an investigation but will refer it for review and any action deemed appropriate. Upon completion, the BIA Director’s Office will respond to our office regarding action they have taken and then we will evaluate their response to determine whether or not appropriate action was taken or further involvement by our office appears warranted. We appreciate you communicating this matter to us. Your commitment in helping the [Department of the Interior] improve the effectiveness of its programs and operations benefits not only the Department but also the public we serve." 

One of the BIA director's buddies has been on a three-year detail as a special assistant to the director. Usually, a special assistant has skill and experience that will benefit the director. But in this case, the special assistant had to detail another individual from the Midwest Regional Office to act as his special assistant. Whoever heard of a special assistant needing a special assistant?

This has been going on for almost three years. The cost to have these two special assistants has taken funds which could have helped out Indian country. The Midwest Regional "special assistant" spent more than $45,000 just in travel last year. There is no telling how much the "special assistant" to the director of the BIA spent on travel, as he lives in Billings, Montana, and regularly visits home while traveling throughout the country. All the while we have tribal communities that are hurting and suffering for lack of funding. 

The Office of Personnel Management has a policy that an individual can't be in a detail for more than 120 days, but BIA leaders continuously detail friends into positions for long periods of time while those who should have a chance to learn and gain experience are denied. This has happened throughout the history of the BIA. It's who you know and who is in control. 

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Even now in the proposed Cobell Land Buy-Back Program, BIA is proposing to put a GS-15 position in three locations. One is being advertised in the Midwest Region and guess what, the special assistant to the special assistant will get it. She is allowed to work from home whenever she wants. That's how it works in the BIA. 

The BIA Great Plains Region has the highest land fractionation and the Midwest Region has nothing, but BIA is placing the position in the Midwest. Wow, shouldn't that position be in Aberdeen, South Dakota? Figure that one out. The Montana Mafia did a great disservice to the region when they transferred a long time trust-land deputy to the human services side just so that leaders could bring a friend in to take her job. This is just one of many things that they have done to put their folks in place. It continues today and will continue. The BIA director knows that his time left in office is short, so he has arranged a change in Billings, Montana, so he can slide into it and be close to his children. That's how it works in the BIA. It's an ugly world but Indian country continues to let the BIA get away with it. 

I'm not knocking the working folks in the BIA because they work hard. It's upper level management that does what they want. The Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association should call the BIA on the carpet for this. The GS-15 position at the Midwest Regional Office needs to be in the Great Plains Region. This is an important time for Indian country and the BIA shouldn't be neglecting your needs. 

I'm just appalled that even though the Great Plains Region has the highest fractionation, they are being treated like a stepchild. Some one needs to step up and make the BIA be accountable. I am a former BIA employee, but right is right. The Great Plains Regional Director is from Montana and buddies with the others and he's letting it happen without a word. The "Montana Mafia" needs to answer to the regional tribes. Enough is enough. But all I can do is say it. Someone needs to stand up stop the actions that are happening. The reign needs to stop.

Jay Daniels has 30 years of experience working in Indian country managing trust lands and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. You can find resources and information at