In the last decade, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes have reaped millions of dollars from the success of their four Oklahoma-based casinos.
Traditionally one of the poorer American Indian nations, the tribes’ increasing wealth has stirred inner turmoil over who controls the gaming profits, reported Murray Evens for the Associated Press.
Infighting has intensified in recent weeks, and two elected officials claim to be the tribes’ governor and are running separate tribal governments. The AP reported that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs must step in and determine who to recognize as the leader of the Cheyenne-Arapahos, but thus far no firm decision has been reached.
The government page on the tribe’s website represents Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell as governor of the Cheyenne-Arapaho.
But according to Boswell’s 2009 running mate Leslie Harjo, Boswell was impeached and removed from office in March, making Harjo the rightful governor. “Harjo served as lieutenant governor before Boswell’s impeachment. When Boswell was impeached last week, Harjo assumed the governorship of the tribe, Cheyenne Arapaho Attorney General Jeremy Oliver said,” reported Matt Patterson for NewsOK.com.
Harjo and her allies are operating out of nearby El Reno. In early April, Harjo attempted to move into the tribal headquarters, as BIA police officers stood by and watched her rifle through government files, Boswell told the AP.
An April 4 press release from Lisa Liebl, a spokeswoman for Boswell, called the incident an “invasion and attack … by dozens of tribal employees and others. Armed with bolt cutters, hammers and crow bars, the crowd stormed the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal headquarters, wreaked havoc on tribal property and assaulted employees. Leading the attacks were suspended Lt. Gov., Leslie Harjo and the 3rd Legislative Speaker, Michael Kodaseet.”
The release stated that “damages are in the thousands of dollars to tribal property.”
The Cheyennes and Arapahos, organized under a single government in 1937, ratified its most recent constitution in 2006 and elected Darrell Flyingman as the first governor under that document, reported the AP. Flyingman lost the reelection to Boswell in November 2009, who took office in January 2010 with Harjo as lieutenant governor. However, the pair accused one another of constitutional violations, and Boswell said she suspended Harjo for insubordination, according to the AP. Meanwhile, Harjo solicited help from the tribal legislature to oust Boswell.
Conflict and confusion has escalated since both sides recognize different sets of tribal court judges, reported the AP.
Also, in a federal court case, Harjo seeks control of the tribes’ bank accounts from Boswell. Boswell seeks dismissal of the case, citing tribal immunity from such lawsuits, her attorney, Thomasina Real Bird of Louisville, Colorado, told the AP.
“How shameful it must be to the ancestors of the tribes to see this infighting,” Liebl told the AP.
The Tribal Council includes all adult members of the 13,000-member tribes, stated the AP. To hold an official meeting, the tribes’ constitution requires five members of the tribal legislature call a meeting or that a petition is signed by 150 members, stated a public notice in the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune.
The Tribal Enrollment Director recently collected 150 signatures on a petition to hold a “Special Tribal Council Meeting” on on May 7 at 10 a.m. at Concho Community Hall in Concho, Oklahoma, according to the public notice, which cites the first order of business as resolving the “purely intra-tribal dispute as to whom the governor is, who the supreme court justices are, the current composition of the third legislature, and who the attorney general is, and disapproving/disavowing/annulling any and all attempts to submit this intra-tribal dispute to any entity outside the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ constitutional system.”
“The Cheyenne-Arapahos are a flashpoint,” Oklahoma City attorney Rick Grellner, who provides counsel for the Tribal Council, told the AP. “They’re caught between the old ways and the new ways. They’re still dysfunctional. They are an easy target in some respects because they are not as sophisticated as other tribes.”
Both Feather Warrior Casinos in Canton and Watonga, and the two Luck Star Casinos in Clinton and Concho continue to operate normally. According to a 2008 audit by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the tribes received $26.6 million in 2006 and $26.8 million in 2007 from casino operations, reported the AP.