As a retired federal law enforcement officer and Native American, I believe it important to enter the conversation relating to the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (OAF), the National Native American Law Enforcement Association (NNALEA), and Gary Edwards’ connection to both. I am a charter member of NNALEA, having joined the organization in the early 1990’s when I was an FBI special agent. Since then, I followed NNALEA activities and recognized the organization’s value as I served as the Deputy Director of BIA’s law enforcement program. Regarding the mascot and team name issue, there was a time I viewed the matter with a “we have bigger fish to fry,” attitude. As I have closely followed the debate and engaged in my own analysis, I came to ask myself a simple question, how would I feel if someone called out to my Mother, “Hey Redskin!” With that personal benchmark established, I better understand that the team name represents a marginalization of our identity. Generations and generations of disregard for who we are, has contributed to those more significant areas of concern our tribal communities face such as, crime, poverty, school dropout, sexual abuse, mortality rates, suicides, substance abuse and more.
There have been numerous warnings raised around the recently founded Washington Redskins charity, OAF. OAF, which was formed in March 2014 by Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder to provide grants to tribes, is recognized by many as a flimsy public relations shill to rally support from members of Indian Country for Snyder’s campaign to keep his team’s name. As Native people we recognize the importance of generosity in a humble way, do it without saying it. Insisting that OAF gifts be “branded” with colors and logos make them no longer gifts, but advertisements. At appearance, OAF’s goal is to make it seem that Native opinion on the “Redskins” name is divided, and counter the rising tide of public and professional opinion to change the NFL franchise’s name. His efforts have had mixed success, with some communities accepting the needed funding and others passing it up. As one tribal leader commented after refusing to take a grant for a youth skate park, “We know a bribe when we see one.”
What has been largely overlooked, however, is the connection between OAF and a degradation of Indian Country’s internal mechanisms and capacity for public safety, trust and crucial inter-organizational cooperation. That mechanism is the National Native American Law Enforcement Association (NNALEA), and the troubling connection is Gary Edwards.
Gary Edwards, a self-described Cherokee, currently leads both the Redskins’ OAF (as executive director) and the cross-jurisdictional, inter-agency cooperative, the NNALEA (as CEO). Edwards has effectively sold his legitimacy as CEO of NNALEA to the Redskins franchise, with disturbing consequences.
The naming of the sitting NNALEA CEO to the post in Snyder’s OAF has given the impression that Native law enforcement, as a group, support the hotly debated team name. For folks in our tribal communities opposed to the team name, this association reinforces their decades-long distrust of law enforcement.
In addition, media focus on Edwards’ participation with the Redskin’s owner, Dan Snyder, has compelled a number of NNALEA’s charter members to openly question the management and function of the NNALEA organization. In fact, Ted Quasula, past NNLEA President has called for a boycott of the upcoming annual conference to be held August 26 – 28, 2014 in Las Vegas, NV, thus drawing a direct line between Edwards’ leadership of the inter-agency organization and it’s ability to provide important services to Indian Country at large.
And then there is the large and lingering question of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement Recruiting contract, valued at nearly one million dollars.
Why the NNALEA is important to Indian Country
In the early 1990’s, a group of Native men and women in law enforcement started talking about forming an organization to support and network Natives in law enforcement. Our vision was a fraternal organization that would offer a particular focus on those serving our tribal communities. We hoped for inter-agency cooperation and increased capacity to serve our communities. We also hoped to ease a generations-long mistrust and distrust of law enforcement, which we know stems from its origins in U.S. military rule. In 1993, NNALEA was officially created, and became a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Like most fledgling organizations, it was important to generate enough revenue to support a variety of initiatives including a newsletter, conferences and student scholarships. Gary Edwards, then a Secret Service Agent, was NNALEA’s first president. He proved to be an able and active leader and moved the organization quickly along in the important formative years.
At a point fairly early on, the board changed the bylaws to reduce the size of the governing board and create a CEO position – to which Edwards was appointed. Joseph Rosen (former FBI Special Agent and retired US Customs Special Agent) was then NNALEA’s General Counsel. At the board meeting creating the full-time CEO position, Rosen argued against the change, stating it gave too much concentrated authority, translating into an unfettered ability to control the financial and business aspects of the organization. The change was made despite his concerns, and the organization started drifting toward a business enterprise focus.
Rosen’s concerns have materialized, as Edwards has steered NNALEA from its original non-profit vision of service to one that emphasizes business enterprise. This shift left me to let my membership lapse and I moved on to find other ways to support Indian Country law enforcement. As time went on, many of the original NNALEA members left the organization for the same or similar reasons. Now it is clear that we should have stayed and fought for the organization and our vision.
GuideStar, who publishes not-for profit organizational financial information (GuideStar.org), reveals that NNALEA is now a 501(c)(6) organization, which is defined as an association of persons having some common business interest, the purpose of which is to promote such common interest.
GuideStar’s records indicate that NNALEA is managed by volunteers and seems to have no employees. The records also showed that NNALEA’s annual revenue was expended on subcontracted labor. GuideStar published IRS 990s listed revenue for NNALEA in the millions of dollars. Where did the revenues come from, and what did NNALEA do with the money?
Misused Million demands closer look, and other NNALEA troubles
When Gary Edwards was named executive director of OAF in March of 2014, the resultant media frenzy brought to light a 2009 Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General report that roundly criticized both the BIA and NNALEA for a mismanaged million-dollar contract. The outlined purpose of the contract was to recruit eligible Natives for service in law enforcement. According to the report, the contract failed to recruit even a single candidate.
Edwards hired to folks to “recruit” candidates for the BIA law enforcement contract. As part of their effort, they travelled to powwows where they handed out trinkets to entice folks to “sign up.” They were reportedly paid $10 per hour to gather names, and were not provided any kind of training or detailed orientation to carry out their task. Based on the OIG report, it is clear the candidates were not screened; one was an 80 year-old man and others were not even U.S. citizens.
NNALEA provided the names of 748, apparently unscreened candidates, and was paid $967,100 or $1293 per candidate.
To put the funds in perspective, $1 million would equate to approximately 28 fully equipped police cars, or 967 bullet resistant vests, or 1934 semi-automatic pistols for Indian Country’s chronically underfunded and ill-equipped police officers.
NNALEA’s officers and executives have (for the most part) exited stage left when questions about finances started to fly. In conversations they said it was “Gary’s company” with which NNALEA had a contract to carry out the work for the BIA recruiting contract. Internet record searches found a Tennessee company using the same telephone number and address as NNALEA. The company, Native American Consulting Group, LLC, lists the Registered Agent as an 83 year-old female with the last name of Edwards, who is listed by another Internet database as a relative of Gary Edwards. A business listing website names Gary Edwards the company owner.
Though Native American Consulting Group, LLC has been in business since 2005, there does not appear to be a website marketing the company services, nor are there any company issued press releases touting the enterprise. As a matter of public trust, the NNALEA's board of directors should reveal if they executed a contract with a company owned by their CEO—and if so, how much that company invoiced NNALEA. In the interest of their own fiscal health, the directors should closely examine their own financial records for assurances that hundreds of thousands of dollars did not just ooze between the cracks.
Each year federal agencies have clamored to pay booth and registration fees to attend the NNALEA conference and have allowed their federal employee board members to attend. At one point, the Department of Justice was giving NNALEA funding to assist with conference costs. Based on the Guidestar 990s it appears the conference was generating hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Federal agencies should be asking how their funding was managed and accounted for by NNALEA.
Over the past several weeks there have been a number of original NNALEA members and other Native law enforcement officers, including John Hensley (Retired Associate Commissioner US Customs and NNALEA Past President), Dorothy Summerfield (Retired FBI special agent and NNALEA Past President), Ted Quasula (Retired Director of BIA Law Enforcement and NNALEA Past President) who have been in routine communication and have unanimously expressed their disappointment that the NNALEA board of directors have not issued a statement distancing the organization and membership from the Redskins name issue. Their disappointment also extends to a real concern regarding the revenues generated in NNALEA’s name. Also questioned is how the NNALEA board has allowed Gary Edwards to use NNALEA’s name and credibility as he represents OAF.
Joseph Rosen sums it up best: “As a founding member of NNALEA and a former director, it saddens me that the NNALEA CEO has chosen to head Dan Snyder's organization that is meant to legitimize the racial slur of a team name. It reflects poorly on NNALEA to have the NNALEA CEO associated with Snyder's efforts. If he is being paid to do so, it should even be more troublesome for NNALEA.”
As a concerned group of founding NNALEA members we urge a formal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service regarding the NNALEA and Native American Consulting Group, LLC, business relationship to determine if there was a violation of IRS 501 (c) (6) regulation or statue; further we strongly encourage the NNALEA board of directors to take swift action to publically distance the organization from OAF and remove Gary Edwards as NNALEA CEO. It's time to get NNALEA back on track for Indian Country.
Walter Lamar, Blackfeet/Wichita, is a former FBI special agent, deputy director of BIA law enforcement and is currently president of Lamar Associates. Lamar Associates' Indian Country Training Division offers culturally appropriate training for Indian country law enforcement and service professionals with both on-site and online courses.