Yellow Bird: Clearing up some Giago allegations
A column by my friend, Tim Giago, has prompted me to write, perhaps to clear away smoke that has gotten into his eyes from alleged fires.

I, too, have covered tribal government issues and problems. I wrote columns for the Grand Forks Herald for more than 20 years. I was hired by the Herald about 12 years ago and then wrote columns twice a week. One of the things that my editor, Tom Dennis, used to say to me is, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check out.”

That might well apply to Giago’s column.

I have read some of the articles on the website that Tim refers to as one of his sources. The site has a place in the media because it’s a place to vent, to speak your mind openly. As I see it, the problem is most comments are anonymous. In most mainstream newspaper, anonymous writings are not printed. Most of the comments on site, it seems, evolve out of rumor.

I say this because the issue of the so called tribes “frozen funds” was not only misleading but left out the complex nature of the lawsuit that lead to the tribe’s shortfall.

In his favor, Giago did print Chairman Marcus Levings response. The Chairman’s response to the “temporary freeze on funds” was been one of the subjects discussed at six segments informational meetings held this week around the reservation. The meeting, however, were not planned around that subject. The meetings are an attempt by the tribal council to become more transparent to the people. They also have added video conferencing to council meetings for those in outlying districts. Those watching by video conference can make comments to the council from as far away as Twin Buttes which is some 90 miles away.

The Minot Daily News (“Tribes’ finances back to functioning after temporary freeze on funds, Oct 29, 2009) is a good place to start to understand the temporary freeze on funds. The reporter does a good job of explaining a complicated lawsuit. In a nutshell, Lake Sakakawea & Associates (LSA) obtained an arbitration judgment against the Three Affiliated Tribes for approximately $3.2 million to LSA, $2.5 million to a Wells Fargo-Led group of banks and a later award of $937,000 to a company called Totten Builders. Despite a good faith effort to find a reasonable method of repayment, which included a previous payment of $1.9 million, the Wells Fargo-led group of banks and LSA chose to enforce the judgment though a garnishment of all tribal bank accounts. That created a temporary loss of funds, but payroll and tribal services were not in jeopardy.

I had to smile at the comment about the “shutdown of half the tribal building.” Judy Brugh, councilwoman for the tribe and chairman of the health committee, is an advocate for prevention. North Dakota reported about 95 percent of the flu cases are the swine flu (H1N1). So she had the doors closed except the front door and everyone coming through was asked to use hand sanitizers. They tribe installed wall sanitizers near the door and now all doors are open. I think her efforts are working because we seem to be avoiding the flu so far.

Mystery solved if you check out the facts.

Why am I commenting on this issue?

My intention these last few years was to retire and move home. I missed my family, White Shield and this beautiful land. I want to be able to see the season change and walk the prairie. When I returned home in May, Chairman Levings offered the job as press secretary. I found it’s not a traditional press secretary position. I have a myriad of things to do but I mostly do stories and photograph people and events on the reservation. Recently, for example, I traveled the Badlands and the Hidatsa country taking pictures of sacred sites with Tony Mandan, a tribal elder. We will than put story to the photos later.

I also attended reservation-wide informational meetings that I referred to above. So this isn’t a tribal press release about the issue, but comments to help clear away some of the smoke and douse a factitious fire.

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