Tag Archives: Government Accountabililty

10/17/2011 Navajo Times: Changes aim to protect cash from spending

10/17/2011 Navajo Times: Changes aim to protect cash from spending By Marley Shebala: There’s nearly $45 million in the tribe’s Undesignated Unreserved Fund but it may not be there for long if the Navajo Nation Council approves amendments to the Appropriations Act next week. Twelve members of the Nabik’yati’ Committee voted Tuesday to give the amendments a do-pass recommendation, making its passage a good bet during the Council’s fall session next week. The amendments, sponsored by Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tse si’ani/Wide Ruins) would expand Ð instead of waiving – rules limiting the Council’s ability to spend the money, most of which is a one-time cash infusion from settlement of a lawsuit against Peabody Energy.

The intention is to protect the money from the chaotic methods of passing supplemental spending bills used in past years, said one Council leader, although some provisions would arguably reduce some restraints imposed under the current law.

The amendments moved at warp speed through the committee process, with the Budget and Finance Committee and the Law and Order Committee meeting during the Nabik’yati’ Committee’s lunch break to review the legislation, which they both gave a “do-pass” recommendation.

The proposed amendments would add language to the Appropriations Act that would allow the Council to make supplemental appropriations earlier in the budget year.

The current budget year started Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2012.

The tribe’s spending law now prohibits the Council from making supplemental appropriations until projected revenues are met and the UUF, the tribe’s rainy day fund, has a minimum balance equal to 10 percent of the prior fiscal year’s budget.

In this case, that would be $17 million since the 2011 budget was $170 million.

The projected revenues for the 2011 budget were not realized until August, two months before the end of the budget year.

The Appropriations Act also mandates that any amendments to it must come from the Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, of which Curley is a member.

In presenting his bill to the committee Tuesday, said the reason for the amendments is to update the law and move supplemental appropriations legislation more efficiently through the legislative review process.

“These amendments make it simpler and easier for the Council to serve the needs of more constituents,” he added.

B&F committee Chair LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T’iistoh Sikaad/Tse Daa K’aan/Upper Fruitland) said in a separate interview that the move to streamline the process for supplemental spending began as soon as the delegates learned that the UUF, which for the last couple of years has been millions in the red, now contained close to $40 million.

Bates, who has championed spending restraint during his years in the Council, said the amendment process was initiated to prevent a repeat of past years where last-minute spending requests would come from the Council floor with little or no explanation or justification.

Approval depended more on the political clout of the sponsor than on the proposal’s merit, with massive expenditures involving a little sugar for every chapter being particularly popular.

Bates also noted that the law currently requires the B&F Committee to hold hearings on the annual budget and supplemental spending bills, although the Law & Order Committee recommended that this responsibility be ceded to the Nabik’yati’ Committee, to which all the delegates belong.

Bates said that the committee’s proposed supplemental spending process would set priorities for allocating funds, such as the Peabody settlement, that are a one-time windfall.

Among the potential competition for supplemental spending are all three branches of the tribal government, which got significantly less than their stated need in the current budget.

According to President Ben Shelly’s 2011 budget message, the executive branch is short by about $65 million.

The much-smaller judicial branch’s unmet needs totaled about $1.6 million, according to previous statements by Chief Justice Herb Yazzie.

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65

FILE - In a Dec. 8, 2009 file photo Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts, left, is greeted by Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar following an announcement on the settlement of Cobell lawsuit at the Interior Department in Washington, A spokesman for Cobell says the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties has died. She was 65. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta/File)

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65 Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties, died Sunday. She was 65. Cobell died at a Great Falls hospital of complications from cancer, spokesman Bill McAllister said.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

After years of legal wrangling, the two sides in 2009 agreed to settle for $3.4 billion, the largest government class-action settlement in U.S. history. The beneficiaries are estimated to be about 500,000 people.

Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

“Maybe one of these days, they won’t even think about me. They’ll just keep going and say, `This is because I did it,'” Cobell said. “I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

President Barack Obama released a statement that said Cobell’s work provided a measure of justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, will give more people access to higher education and will give tribes more control over their own lands.

“Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and all those who mourn her passing,” the statement read.

Cobell said she had heard stories since she was a child of how the government had shortchanged Native Americans with accounts for royalties from their land that was leased for resource development or farming.

She became outraged when she actually started digging into how much money the government had squandered that belonged people who were living in dire poverty on the Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, she said.

She realized the amount mismanaged since the 1880s could be hundreds of billions of dollars. She said she tried for years working with two U.S. government administrations to resolve the dispute in the early 1990s, then decided to sue with four other Native Americans as plaintiffs when no progress was made.

The government dug in. Over the next 14 years, there were more than 3,600 court filings, 220 days of trial, 80 published court decisions and 10 appeals until the 2009 breakthrough.

Under the settlement, $1.4 billion would go to individual Indian account holders. Some $2 billion would be used by the government to buy up fractionated Indian lands from individual owners willing to sell, and then turn those lands over to tribes. Another $60 million would be used for a scholarship fund for young Indians.

Cobell spent the next year shuttling back and forth between her home in Browning to Washington, D.C., to lobby individual congressmen to approve the deal. She also logged thousands of miles traveling across Indian country to explain the deal to the potential beneficiaries.

She found unexpected resistance among some Native Americans. They questioned why it was so little, how much would be going to her and they attorneys or why it didn’t include a more complete accounting of what happened to the money.

Congress approved the deal and Obama signed it in December of 2010, a year after it was first proposed. A federal judge approved the settlement in June, though there are still appeals of the settlement pending.

Cobell discovered she had cancer just a few weeks before the judge’s approval in June. She traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for surgery.

Cobell was born with the Indian name Little Bird Woman, a great granddaughter of the famous leader Mountain Chief. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters on the Blackfeet reservation.

She graduated from Great Falls Business College and received honorary degrees from Montana State University, Rollins College and, earlier this year, Dartmouth College.

She was the Blackfeet nation’s treasurer for 13 years, and in 1987 helped found the first U.S. bank to be owned by a tribe, the Blackfeet National Bank, which is now the Native American Bank.

Cobell was the executive director of the nonprofit Native American Community Development Corp., which promotes sustainable economic development in Indian Country.

She won a $300,000 “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1997 and used most of the money to help fund the lawsuit.

Cobell lived on a ranch 30 miles south of Browning with her husband Alvin. Her only son, Turk, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Bobbie and their children Olivia and Gabriella.

She has a brother and two sisters who live in Browning and a third sister who lives in Seattle.