Thu, 11/03/2016 - 5:00am admin
Slates vie to shape the Crow Nation’s future
By Levi C. Flinn, Big Horn County News
Candidates for Crow Tribe Executive positions participated in debates last Wednesday during a five-hour discourse before members of the Crow Nation, each promising voters that they had the better plan and vision to lead Crow Country.
Little Big Horn College debate moderators allowed each candidate to respond to questions submitted by the community and to a rebuttal from their opponent. Candidates were also allowed a closing statement in which they could freely address the public.
Public questions called for their stances on concerns involving law enforcement, housing, energy diversification, education, agriculture, the economy and government transparency.
In closing, Chairman candidate and current Secretary A.J. Not Afraid said, “We are all Apsáalooke people in the end” and promised to work towards the eradication of methamphetamine. Not Afraid continued, citing what he saw as a significant lack of action in the current administration witnessed during his four-year tenure.
“We’ve had all these various issues that I would hate to elaborate on but, as chairman, I will protect your sovereignty and protect your communities,” he said. “Elect me as the first chairman to do something in Lodge Grass, Wyola, Pryor and Big Horn Valley.”
Not Afraid advocated investment in Crow communities by spending to create jobs that will, in turn, create revenue. Entrepreneurship, he added, should be explored and opportunities given to entrepreneurs.
“During my four years, I’ve not been given the opportunity, maybe a contract here and there,” he said. “Yet, it is an oppressive state, so we’re going to open the doors for Crows to farm their own land and build their own businesses.”
“Everything we’ve done so far, I commend the chairman, but it’s still not at the magnitude that can be done,” he continued. “I thank all officials [for] the newly passed laws that separate the business from the politics, which we’ve been working on since day one.”
Not Afraid, in his final rebuttal, stated he is a proponent of the Old Coyote Administration goals, but offered “above and beyond” ideals to preserve and protect the Crow Tribe.
“Longevity of the Crow people; we can still preserve our culture. There are other tribes and ethnicities that don’t have a reservation, yet they still have their culture,” he said. “If you elect us in, you’ll have a reservation, you’ll continue to have land holdings, we’ll take care of the outside entities coming in to keep our longevity. Culture is our most powerful tool, but in D.C. they don’t care about us. While we celebrate, they’re making laws to take away our sovereignty.”
Chairman stresses continuity
Chairman Darrin Old Coyote said his slate’s motto and vision is “Apsáalooke Nation on the Move.” Continuity, he continued, is the key to a future of success.
According to Old Coyote, when he took office in 2012, his administration inherited a $12 million dollar debt, which they reduced and zeroed out through stringent financial management and debt retirement plans.
“Among the many avenues of financial management, tribal employees were asked to reduce their hours to 32 per week for two-and-a-half years; they helped pay for that debt,” he said. “The Crow Tribe will soon be out of its debt and, eventually, employees will return to a 40-hour week, compensating them for the years they have sacrificed for the Crow Tribe.”
Old Coyote also noted the effects of global warming, which created new laws that resulted in coal production cutbacks. These cutbacks, he added, have led to less coal production as part of a federal effort to shut down mines.
Noting the recent agreement to cut back coal revenue, Old Coyote made a point of his administration’s economic development accomplishments that he said assist in balancing the deficit caused by the cutbacks. These include C-stores, local markets, significant land purchases and various business ventures.
In 2013, he added, the Old Coyote Administration conducted a study on the establishment opportunities of a Crow-owned financial institution, which he hopes will assist entrepreneurs and consumers.
“We have $240 million sitting in the... First Interstate [Bank] and $85 million in California; none of that is being used by Crow people,” he said. “We could leverage that 70 percent, where tribal members, who own their own trust land, can build a business they want. I think our record speaks for itself in these four years.”
“There is no other Crow Tribe in the United States or the world,” he continued. “We need to retain our culture and language; it’s our identity. We need to protect our land, respect one another and take care of what we have. To move forward as a tribe, we need to look at our land base and secure it for future generations.”
Addressing land use
Chairman candidates were asked to reflect on what they think should be done about non-Indian farmers’ and ranchers’ alleged “widespread violation” of Section II of the Crow Act of 1920, which limits individually-owned acreage on the reservation.
Not Afraid made the point that there are currently no violators of Section II, citing the lack of prosecution within the reservation needed to consider anyone a violator.
“The solution to this issue is to hire a workforce that is not only educated in land, but also in treaty doctrines and [the Code of Federal Regulations],” he said. “There’s no need to reinvent how we can find a solution for this, but yet, we still need to pull together our resources to show and demonstrate to the Crow people how we can attain those lands back or get federal compensation. With the right staffing, it’s attainable.”
During his rebuttal, Not Afraid agreed with the facts presented by Old Coyote, noting that he would continue on efforts already established by the Old Coyote Administration.
Old Coyote plans to reintroduce the Crow Land Restoration Act, which would allow the tribe to consolidate land through purchases. He noted that, in 1999, the State of Montana and the Crow Tribe entered three separate settlements involving water rights, Section II and a coal severance tax.
In regard to Section II, Old Coyote referred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who he believes “dropped the ball” in trust responsibility, and cited the tribe’s inability to sue the federal government or the opportunity to buy back land. He also noted lease revenue in the amount of $1.3 million is already in place to purchase land.
“With Section II, in the last few years, we’ve gone to D.C. wanting to address it,” he said. “One we addressed in 2007 was the Crow Land Consolidation Act...we would consolidate Crow land, and buy fee land and the land of Section II violators.”
Candidates were also asked to state their plans regarding alternative resources, excluding goals involving coal.
Old Coyote referred to his tenure as vice secretary in 2004 when he was told by then Department of Interior Deputy Secretary James Cason that they are “getting out of the Indian business,” and suggested the tribe to diversify and evaluate its resources. Old Coyote cited his previous work in energy diversification as a part of an oil and gas committee.
“All the infrastructure is in place…the Afterbay Hydro project will commence in 2017 and bring in about $3 million a year,” he said. “We also recently signed a letter of intent – they’re opening a coal port ... – about 14 million tons will come to the Crow Tribe, which accounts to about $100 million a year, so diversification is key.”
Old Coyote made note of various diversifying projects currently in action including c-stores, windmill facilities and even jet fuel production.
Not Afraid agreed with the need to diversify and suggested a “bigger picture” of bringing in millions of dollars to the tribe.
“If we continue to waste [funds] or misspend, and not actually invest into the people, what good is it to me as a chairman looking out for your best interests?” he asked. “Within the Cloud Peak deal, we have $75,000 a year going to education, when it’s a multi-million dollar deal. Does $75,000 suffice for education? The answer is no.”
Suggesting efforts in bottled water and green energy, Not Afraid insisted millions of dollars could be attained, but noted the tribe must first focus on prudent spending.
“That’s the question you should be asking yourself; if you vote for the right person, there will be a short-term and long-term plan,” he said. “Career politicians: have they looked at the future or did they plan for now? As we watch the spending, it’s always been planned for the now. If we’re going to diversify, we will have a plan for our spending.”
In his rebuttal, Old Coyote referred to the opposing slate, saying there is “a lot of talk” regarding government transparency and accountability. Old Coyote presented documents showing travel expenses from 2001 to 2014 in the amount of $67,000 for opposing vice chaiman candidate Shawn Real Bird, which Old Coyote said, included a trip to Turkey for the “Infrastructure Development Cooperation Between Turkey and Indian Country” in 2011.
“They’re saying we’re spending money, and at the same time, I have here $11,000 in credit card receipts for one month from Secretary Not Afraid,” he said. “If we want transparency and accountability, my slate would bring that to you as we have done before.”
Not Afraid reflected on Old Coyote’s allegations, blaming the current administration for “extreme” travel expenditures.
“If that individual overdid it on travel, who approves all of it?” he asked. “If that individual took advantage of the tribe, why isn’t our leadership doing anything about it? As elected chairman, you’ll see on-the-spot corrections, because it’s a team. Through education, we will help those individuals be a professional. As far as credit card statements, that’s the first time I’ve heard of it.”
The third question called for candidates’ plans-of-action to improve housing and overall quality of life on the reservation.
Not Afraid cited the commonality of several families living in one house, which was greater noticed by the current administration during their door-to-door campaigns in the previous election.
“We’ve done enough today for the administration, but I want to do enough for the people. That would require long, hard strategic planning and financing, which also means you paying your bills,” Not Afraid said. “It’s not a bad thing to pay bills and as long as we have that money, we can keep it continually reoccurring. Crows need financing and I believe that it is the tribe’s responsibility to promote and encourage that for good, healthy living.”
Old Coyote made note of his work in the research of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), beginning in 2012 after being elected chairman.
“I saw that there were a lot of people not paying their rent…with three to five families in one home,” he said. “I started implementing the holding of their per caps, as stated in the signed agreements. This was never pursued, so I did, and how could you expect to build homes on the reservation if nobody is paying? We’re keeping our own people homeless by not paying for our homes.”
Throughout the reservation, he added, more than $4 million dollars is owed to HUD. He also cited his recent work with Pennsylvania construction company Dreamweaver Homes, who, according to Old Coyote, is considering the development of a home-building business in the reservation.
Not Afraid disagreed with Old Coyote, citing his tenure as secretary in which he was delegated to manage log-housing project infrastructures.
“Meanwhile, that ended up on the back-burner and I started to see where the priorities were for the current administration,” he said.
Old Coyote reflected on the log-housing project, saying there were many “under-the-table” deals involved, which motivated his decision to put the project aside.
“I wanted everything put on the table during that project and that’s why everything was put on hold,” he said. “We haven’t heard anything since I said everything needed to be transparent.”
Candidates were also asked to state their opinions on whether to pursue joint jurisdiction between BIA and Big Horn County law enforcement.
Not Afraid noted the current administration’s status quo of maximizing resources, and stated plans were in progress within D.C. to provide and stimulate the tribe to employ more police officers. Not Afraid also referred to the idea of individual district precincts, saying the current administration opposed the idea.
“This administration didn’t want [precincts] during the four years, hence the reason why we’re running: so we can provide safety to the Crow people with accountability on the streets,” he said. “Today, you could go to Pryor and that response time is very long…when an incident happened with my brother, by the time I got there, all the external agencies had shown up prior to our own law enforcement.”
Lack of law enforcement
Not Afraid said when he asked about the lack of law enforcement despite vacant positions, he was told that problems in hiring arose from an abundance of negative background checks. Few possible job candidates, he continued, desire to work in the area due to them feeling tribal leadership “has a hand in corruption on the reservation.”
“If elected in office, we would push the District Office to make sure they maintain that workforce. Why is it that Fort Washakie has 30 officers with about the same size land-base as Crow Agency, where we only have about nine officers?” he said. “There’s something wrong there, so as we analyze and view this, we want to help BIA demonstrate security on the reservation. But, if they’re not doing their job, let’s move them out of the way and let the tribe take over. If you’re for the people, you want that liability.”
Old Coyote said he believes the tribe does not need cross-deputization and referred to the “old ways” of social control, in which law enforcement “was not needed.” According to Old Coyote, social control had previously been achieved through the clan system and general family respect.
According to Old Coyote, efforts have been made to assist law enforcement. Hiring practices have taken too long, he continued, and the administration has since begun the creation of a law, in cooperation with BIA, to expand law enforcement by increasing employment rates and building a Crow Agency-based jail.
“The respect for families and individuals has been lost because of mind-altering drugs and alcohol. Today, a lot of individuals believe we do need law enforcement,” he said. “Funding has not been increased for the last 10 years and we still have to subsidize law enforcement. When people want law enforcement in their communities, they expect it right away. But, at the end of the day, we have to bring back those social controls.”
Not Afraid opposed this view, stating law enforcement expansion and presence is necessary to deter criminal activity.
“If there is no law enforcement, who do you turn to? The Crow Tribe isn’t doing anything,” he said. “Our culture is good and people are raised right, but you cannot account for everybody without law enforcement.”
Videos of candidate debates can be reviewed on the Little Big Horn College Facebook page.
Voting polls for Crow Tribe Executive Branch General Election will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Apsáalooke Center (Multipurpose Building) in Crow Agency.