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Big settlement checks due for Arapahos next week; Shoshone process delayed

Apr 17, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

The Northern Arapaho Business Council has released a public notice stating that long-awaited mineral settlement checks will be mailed to enrolled tribal members on Monday, April 21.

Roughly 9,700 enrolled Arapaho tribal members are scheduled to receive about $6,300 apiece by April 23 or April 24.

The Arapaho tribe will be receiving 15 percent of the expected $157 million of the settlement while individual tribal members receive the remaining 85 percent.

The Eastern Shoshone Business Council expects a delay in distribution, however, due to a recent change in leadership. According to tribal law, a four-person council is required to approve the distribution of the settlement. But on April 5, the business council voted to remove members Wes Martel and Ivan Posey, citing corruption and other accusations. Chairman Darwin St. Clair said the move left the council without a quorum of members.

"Since a quorum of the ESBC was unexpectedly lost, and the meeting ended, our ability to complete the final process in the settlement disbursement was stalled," he said.

In addition the tribe had been in the process of replacing another ESBC member, Harrison A. "Bunny" Shoyo, who died recently. A special election was held Tuesday to fill the spot, and Shoyo's replacement, Clinton D. Wagon, was sworn in Wednesday morning. After Wagon took the oath office, the ESBC proceeded into official business.

St. Clair said disbursement of settlement checks would be delayed for the 4,200 enrolled tribal members, and the amount and timeline for distribution will not be announced until they make approval of that information.

He added that the federal government must verify information from "several tribal offices" before the final disbursement of settlement funds can take place.

Petition

Posey, one of the ousted council members of the Eastern Shoshone Business Council, began distributing a petition April 10 requesting a stay of the April 5 decision that removed himself and Martel from the ESBC. He said the petition drew more than 450 signatures in two days.

A stay would allow the council to distribute the oil and gas settlement money to the 4,200 enrolled Eastern Shoshone tribal members, Posey said. The council could also continue conducting general business for the tribe.

"It's not about me, it's about the people," Posey said. "It would calm down the community. ... We're pretty much paralyzed, (and) there are unresolved issues."

The SBC could consider and take action on the petition during its next general meeting May 9, when the newest council member will be on board.

The April 5 action also removed tribal attorney general Kimberly Varilek from her position.

Posey said he had left the meeting briefly, and when he returned there was a vote on the floor to remove him. He said he wasn't given a reason for the action or an opportunity to speak.

Three phases

Acting superintendent Ray Nation at the Bureau of Indian Affairs office referred to the money coming to the tribes as the "oil and gas settlement." He confirmed that the checks are part of a three-phase settlement between the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes and the United States government. The case originally was filed as two separate, larger suits in 1979, but later was consolidated.

Documents filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit cited mismanagement of natural resources and associated revenues on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The first phase, regarding sand and gravel, was resolved in a settlement as a result of the U.S. government's failure to collect royalties after Oct. 10, 1973.

Phase II was split into two parts concerning oil and gas issues dating back to oil and gas royalty collection before 1973. Court documents state that the U.S. government "breached fiduciary and statutory duties owed to the tribes by mismanaging the (WRIR's) natural resources and the incomes derived from the exploitation of these resources."

The settlement money coming to the reservation this month is a result of issues addressed more recently as part of the second phase, part of which has been resolved.

"This is not welfare, or free money," said Arapaho Business Council co-chairman Ronald Oldman. "This is payment to tribal members for the production of their minerals, just like any private mineral owner would expect and deserve."

According to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seven oil and gas leases were converted unlawfully from status under the Act of Aug. 21, 1916, to status under the Indian Mineral Leasing Act.

"(The tribes) claim damages based on the theory that they would have obtained better royalty and renewal terms if the leases had remained 1916 Act leases instead of being converted," court documents state.

Mark Howell, public affairs consultant for the Northern Arapaho Tribe, confirmed that the payments are not associated with the Cobell Settlement, also pending to be distributed to enrolled members of both tribes on the reservation this year.

He said the tribe has worked closely with banks in Riverton, Lander and Fort Washakie to ensure there is enough money on hand to cash the checks and to "assure a smooth processing of funds."

Participating banks include the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union, Central Bank and Trust, Wells Fargo, Bank of the West and Wyoming Community Bank.

"We expect these dollars to circulate through the Wyoming economy many times over, and provide a substantial financial boost, especially in Fremont County," said Dean Goggles, Arapaho Business Councilman.

The business council is encouraging tribal members to secure their funds in a bank account and avoid check-cashing fees.