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VIEWPOINT: Tribes need to safeguard their funding

DUNSEITH, N.D. -- Since the birth of tribal reservations created by our ancestors and the U.S. government, these same land boundaries have been a safe haven for many criminals who have at times been our tribal leadership. Illegal activities such ...

DUNSEITH, N.D. -- Since the birth of tribal reservations created by our ancestors and the U.S. government, these same land boundaries have been a safe haven for many criminals who have at times been our tribal leadership. Illegal activities such as corruption and the misuse of tribal funds have taken place in most tribal communities, if not all.

This learned behavior has taken its toll on the American Indian population across the U.S. When will it stop? What can be done?

Over the years as I observed this kind of behavior, I have come to the conclusion that as Indian people, we need to take action in a way that will put a damper on criminal activity, corruption and almost continual misuse of funds.

I don't blame the funding agencies, whose hearts are in the right place when awarding monies and whose generosity is appreciated by American Indian communities. But in some cases, tribal leaders and other interested parties have their hands out when they see the dollar signs dangling in front of them, especially when they know they'll get funding based on the fact that there remain many disparities among us and funding is very much needed in Indian communities.

What's sad about this situation is that too often, the only beneficiaries will be the leaders themselves and their family and friends.

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I have come up with the idea that organizations, agencies and even state/federal governments need to write up some kind of contract agreement that will specify law enforcement and prosecution response if any or all of the funding is misappropriated or misused by a tribe or tribal entity.

This process should work if it is approved by our elected officials in Washington. The course of action should be addressed and voted on by Congress, if need be.

What this would mean is that in the future, tribes would have to sign an agreement with the funding agencies, stating they will use the requested monies for the purpose that they are intended for. If any funding is redirected and/or misused, a criminal probe would take place, prosecutions would follow and the result would be a jail sentence.

In some instances, money would be paid back if it were to be unaccounted for.

For years, there has been much talk about the misuse of funding on tribal reservations. But most tribal councils will not take the appropriate steps to prosecute when there is any wrongdoing. Instead, they will use tribal sovereignty as a defense strategy.

This strategy would be null and void if a strong enough contract agreement was put in place.

Most tribal members such as me are very concerned about tribal corruption and the misuse of funding. In my view, if tougher guidelines and agreements can be put in place, it should put a halt to some of the criminal activity taken place on our reservations.

Funding agencies also would feel more comfortable when providing grants and other funding for its intended use. And I'm sure this course of action will be supported by our tribal communities across Indian Country.

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Cree is a member of the Turtle River Band of Chippewa.

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