Clara Caufield: Northern Cheyenne Tribe keeps people in dark

The following opinion by Clara Caufield appears in the latest issue of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

The flag of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Photo from Facebook

Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council to remove Tribal Treasurer
By Clara Caufield

Staff of the Northern Cheyenne Finance Department might be feeling a little nervous after Monday, July 20, when Tribal Treasurer Adam Spang was summoned to the Tribal Council meeting to be advised of an impending 8-2 vote for his removal. Offered the opportunity to resign, he did, perhaps not wanting to subject himself to a removal process, certain to be controversial and even ugly.

Yet, when a government removes its’ top financial official, it is startling and of concern to tribal members. “What is going on?” we must wonder. “Is there trouble in paradise?”

Ideally this should be a hard-breaking story, but that is difficult without sources such as the elected officials who took this action. While one Tribal Council member, Conrad Fisher, Lame, did return a call regarding this matter, he deferred comment to Tracy Robinson, Tribal Council Sergeant of Arms. As of press time, Robinson had not returned a call.

Yet, Tribal President Llevando “Cowboy” Fisher confirmed the action, which was as much of a surprise to him as it was to Spang.

“The Council said their action was based on complaints,” Fisher explained, “but I have not seen them.”

Attempts to contact Spang for comment were also unsuccessful.

So that leaves us to speculate. Perhaps, the Council had good reasons for their action. If so, should not the tribal membership be made aware of those complaints?

The Tribal Treasurer is one of the top members of the Tribal Government Executive Branch, entrusted with the accurate management of millions, mostly Federal funds, but also some tribal revenue. Others are the elected Tribal President, elected Vice-President, appointed Tribal Secretary and appointed Executive Assistant. Federal money, the bulk of the tribal budget comes with strings – federal regulations which must be strictly observed.

Under the Northern Cheyenne system, the applicants for the Tribal Treasurer position must have the requisite education and experience to handle such responsibility. Applicants are evaluated, nominated by the Tribal President for a four year term running concurrent with his/hers.

As the primary tribal check-signer, the President must have absolute confidence in the Tribal Treasurer and Finance Department that he/she administers. The President’s nominee is confirmed by the Tribal Council, Spang in 2012.

Adam Spang is one of the few Northern Cheyenne tribal members to have an MBA and considerable experience with tribal, federal programs and even the private sector. As such, his exacting dedication to regulations and policy has sometimes been a thorn to program managers and even the Tribal Council, where travel is always a major concern.

Rumor is that Spang was holding the Council’s feet to the fire regarding travel, even instituting payroll deductions for unreconciled trip reports. Yet, under his watch the Tribe earned two clean federal audits. The new “Acting” Tribal Treasurer does not have a college degree, but many years of experience with the Tribal Finance Department.

As a tribal member, I find one aspect of this development troubling. The Northern Cheyenne Tribe has adopted personnel policies and procedures which guarantee due process for all employees, including those who are appointed. This is a bottom-line requirement to receive federal funds.

Yet, time after time the Tribal Council has made exceptions to the personnel policies and procedures, based upon political considerations. As one Tribal member, a former Council member and Director said. “Why even adopt the policies?” He also noted, “The Tribal Council has absolute power on the Reservation, but no accountability to the people or the administration.”

In addition, the Tribe has adopted an ordinance which establishes a process for removal of tribal officials – written complaints are required, a formal hearing is held and the official can respond, represented by legal counsel.

Over the years, the Tribal Council has mastered this process, removing several Tribal Presidents, the most recent being John Robinson in 2013 who cried “foul” to no avail. He, for example, was not even present at his removal hearing, absent due to medical reasons.

Whether this process is objective or not can be argued. The point is that a process is in place for the orderly consideration of complaints and possible removal of tribal officials. In Spang’s case it was not used.

Perhaps the Tribal Council was justified in taking this action, not taken lightly according to one Council member. If so, they have a solemn obligation to be forthcoming with their constituents, of which I am one.

Without information or facts, we are prone to suspect the worst and will even ask “What is the Tribal Council hiding?”

(Clara Caufield can be reached @

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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