WINNEBAGO, Neb. - It may have been said the BIA works in the dark most of the time, but in Winnebago, Neb. that is exactly the case.
The Winnebago Tribe turned out the lights at the building the BIA rents from the tribe because the bureau failed to negotiate a new rent contract four months ago.
"I sent out memos and tried to meet with them since August," said John Blackhawk, tribal chairman.
It appears the BIA has not paid the right amount of rent asked by the tribe, the building owners, for years and there could be a backlog of payments that amount to almost $500,000, Blackhawk said.
Alice Harwood, acting area director for the Great Plains Area, said the BIA was paid up with the Winnebagos. "I'm positive we can negotiate and work together. The money has been paid, but because of budget cycles it may not have been right on time, but we are paid up."
Not true, Blackhawk claims.
"A new lease was to have been signed by October and it wasn't so we shut off the electricity," Blackhawk said.
He added that the BIA came up with a purchase order for $10,000 to have the lights turned on and it didn't take much of an effort. He said the two parties discussed the arrangement on Jan. 8 and the BIA said they could have the money the next day.
"We had everyone scrambling. If we hadn't turned the electricity off, we would be in the same situation without a lease payment. Miraculously they came up with the purchase order to turn the light on so that proves they can negotiate and come up with the money," he said.
Actually the lease payment should be in the area of $180,000 per year, Blackhawk said. The building has a new roof, new carpet, and is fully air-conditioned and the tribe pays for cleaning and refuse removal services. Blackhawk said the BIA actually pays much less than needed to cover all expenses. The tribe has to eat the difference.
"They have known for five years that the amount they pay is too small and then we jumped it up to $157,000. They are getting a good deal. In Sioux City the average charge for office space is $17 per square foot, we charge $15. We did a measurement and then they sent in someone who came up with fewer square feet," Blackhawk said.
"We are not gouging them; the superintendent admitted that," he said.
A person from the Contract Office in Washington will meet with the tribe to negotiate a new contract. The area office is not in a position to negotiate the deal, Harwood said.
"There is some misunderstanding as far as we are concerned. We have been working back and forth (between the Area Office and Central Office)," Harwood said.
Harwood said the BIA is confident that a deal can be reached with the Winnebagos, but the tribe is not so sure. If there is any figure under $100,000 per year as a lease agreement the BIA will be out looking for new digs.
The BIA wanted to check with the power company to see if the tribe actually paid the bills.
"We always pay our bills. They tried to have that discussion and I said we wouldn't have that discussion," Blackhawk said.
He said it was hard to determine who the trustee was in this case.
It's not like the building will go empty if the BIA is given the boot. The tribe has a use for the offices right now.
The Superintendent's office in Winnebago also deals with the Omaha and Santee Sioux Tribes.
"If we can't negotiate a deal, I'm sure we can, then we would look for someplace for an office. I wouldn't want to speculate where we would put (the office)," Harwood said.