Children of the Northern Arapaho Tribe celebrate a school opening at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The tribal government has recently been exposed of corruption, misusing federal funds for their own purposes. (Image Source: Cultural Survival)
Native American tribes in the country have not done well in recent decades. After a brief resurgence following the civil rights movement, the surviving tribes of the United States have been pushed aside and hidden, suffering from severe poverty while the tribal governments have trouble creating an economy that allows them to live decently on the reservation. The notion of tribes building casinos to generate revenue for the reservation has not only created a new stereotype for Native Americans to endure, but has also failed, due to too many casinos being built. Now, Native Americans have to deal with corruption: The federal government and private auditors have revealed widespread corruption among certain tribes in the nation, with federal money directed towards tribes being pocketed to fund vacations, pay bills, and other personal desires.
Singled out among the tribes is the Northern Arapaho Tribe, located at the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming, near the Grand Tetons. The Northern Arapaho suffer from extreme poverty living on the Wind River reservation, with the median income for a family being only $16,000 per year. Crime is rampant on the reservation. Yet the Northern Arapaho Business Council, the tribal government, has overseen a period of corruption among its members, misusing funds granted to them by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
To wit: Managers in the Northern Arapaho Business Council pocked money from health care and food initiatives, including one meant to give food to tribal elders. Some members of the government staff even took money from the Northern Arapaho's tribal welfare fund, and used it gamble at the casinos the tribe owns on the Wind River reservation. In total, the North Arapaho spent $3.7 million in federal funds in the last six years, without recovering any of the funds.
The discovery comes as officials are questioning why agencies were only able to recover about 5% of the more than $100 million they spent on Indian Reservations and recognized tribal governments. Audits conducted publicly and privately revealed that 124 tribal governments, more than 20% of the tribal governments recognized by the federal government, had serious issues managing their money, or had committed some corruption. Making matters worse, the federal approach in recent years, in respect to the Indian Self-Determination Act passed nearly 40 years ago, is to attempt to let the tribes figure things out themselves, a form of "self-correction." Last time that happened was with the Catholic Church over pedophile priests, and look what happened there.
It will be hard to correct the situation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal authorities that oversee Native American relations, remains short-staffed and underfunded, due to the lack of appeal of working in the department, and the fact that many assignments put workers in reservations that are often in the middle of nowhere that very few people care about. The shutdown is not helping matters: Nearly two-thirds of the Bureau of Indian Affairs staff are furloughed.