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Amid reported layoffs, tribe plans General Council

May 10, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The Northern Arapaho government building in Ethete had locked doors Thursday morning as possibly dozens of employees have been receiving notifications of layoffs throughout various departments.

The layoffs that had been anticipated to hit in full force last week began to take their toll Wednesday, with closures reportedly happening at the grants program, the cancer resource center and a senior assistance office.

"I heard that there were 70 layoffs yesterday," said Kim Harjo, who is serving as the chairwoman of the Northern Arapaho General Council meeting set for May 19.

"I was on my way down to the office to prepare to get ready for General Council, and there were people standing outside crying. A lot of them are young, single mothers, and they're the ones really affected," Harjo said.

Tribal members on Thursday morning reported the Arapaho office building in Ethete remained on lockdown due to concerns of reaction from affected tribal members.

Members of the Northern Arapaho Business Council, the elected board that manages the tribe's day-to-day business affairs, could not be reached by press time on Thursday.

An exact number of layoffs initiated by tribal leaders was unavailable.

A copy of an employee termination letter circulating among tribal members cites the reason for the specific layoff as "limited administrative costs."

The letter is signed by the tribe's human resources manager, Belle Ferris.

"They are saying that this is the first round," Harjo said of the terminations.

Reported departments affected included the tribe's public relations, the enrollment office and possibly the credit agency.

"Not only did they close the cancer resource center, they closed the grants program, and that helps people with utility, electric, medical," said Harjo, who formerly served as chairwoman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council.

"It's really going to affect the poorest of the poor people out here. That's what I'm fighting for is the poorest of the poor," she said.

Although she has heard about efforts to derail the General Council in light of tribal financial concerns, Harjo said she is determined to see the meeting take place.

"It's the right of the people, and it's mandated we have a General Council so many times a year, and as General Council chairperson it is my duty to have a General Council," she said.

The General Council, considered the tribe's supreme governing body consisting of enrolled members 18 and older, is expected to discuss financial concerns involving the Northern Arapaho gaming operations, including the Wind River Casino.

"The money at the casino belongs to the tribe," Harjo said. "With these layoffs, the money's already there. There shouldn't be any layoffs at all."

Harjo noted an advertisement from the Wind River Casino stating the gaming business sponsors 150 tribal programs.

"If they are (sponsoring them), why are they shutting down?" she said of the affected agencies.

She planned to work on finalizing the General Council agenda on Thursday.

"A lot of the work that is going into this General Council I am doing myself. ... We are keeping the costs very low on this" meeting, she said.

Harjo and others are fighting to ensure the gathering happens as planned at Great Plains Hall.

"The people are the ones that are calling for the meeting," she said.

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Wind River Indian Reservation