The Chippewa Cree Tribe and Bureau of Reclamation’s
May 7, 2013 Box Elder, Mont. - Chippewa Cree Tribal leaders and managers from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Office discussed the continuing progress of the Rocky Boy North Central Montana Regional Water Project during a regularly scheduled conference call last week. Also discussed, were the firestorm of negative public comments that followed an accusatory news article released by the Associated Press.
The Tribe’s acting Chairman, Rick Morsette said, “The article distributed by the Associated Press contained comments that were not only taken out of context but were untrue.” Morsette added, “Extensive reviews have actually revealed that the Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation may have some outstanding reimbursements coming from the Bureau of Reclamation.”
The controversial Associated Press news story was apparently based on a letter from the Bureau of Reclamation and an interview with ousted ex-chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribal Business Committee, Kenny Blatt St. Marks. The dollar amounts and the suggestion of “missing funds” mentioned in the news article were inaccurate, according to Morsette and others.
“The numbers reported by the local newspapers don’t match the facts” he said. “We spoke to representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation office who agreed that what they read in the paper was inaccurate,” Morsette continued.Tribe-owned Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation is the general contractor in charge of a significant portion of the Rocky Boy North Central Montana Regional Water Project. Deon Stockert, an engineer and project manager from the firm AE2S, an engineering firm and subcontractor to Chippewa Cree
Construction Corporation, who has been working on the project from the beginning asked, “Where did this information come from? Federal officials have not stopped funding. We are currently delayed due to an easement that requires us to wait for crops to be removed in September 2013. We actually have a plan in development to bypass that section of the project for now so work can continue.”
“The Bureau of Reclamation has told us just last week that the next round of funding is currently in the standard Congressional 90-day review period and is scheduled to be released on May 21, 2013.” Morsette added, and “The Chippewa Cree Construction Corporation and the Tribe are continuing to address the issues that were in the Bureau of Reclamation March 18th letter.”
The AP story had reported that the Tribe had “replaced missing money.” Tribal officials insist that all funds are accounted for and that accounting staff have worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to make certain that all paperwork is correct and in order. Rick Morsette said, “We are still trying to recover from the two years of flooding that affected a large part of the reservation. A lot of people seem to have already forgotten that the President of the United States declared the Rocky Boy Reservation a disaster area just two years ago.” Morsette added, “The Construction Corporation invested $5 million of their own funds to rebuild the Tribe’s clinic that was destroyed during the floods.” The Tribe’s health care providers have been operating out of temporary facilities for 3 years. “Our health services have been under an enormous amount of stress and pressure to provide adequate health care. They’ve been able to do that even under these difficult circumstances and have done a tremendous job given the situation.”
Kenny Blatt St. Marks claims that his removal from the Tribe’s Chairmanship position was due to his suspicions of widespread improprieties and intensive collaboration with federal investigators. During his brief tenure as chairman of the Tribe’s Business Committee, Blatt St. Marks claimed to have discovered that the Tribal government and Tribally owned businesses had several millions of dollars missing from their coffers. “Former Chairman Mr. Blatt St. Marks received repeated, in-depth explanations and financial records Showing where federal funds and business revenues are allocated. He refused to listen to our budget and accounting staff who attempted to work with him to clear his confusion,” Morsette added.
Before the AP story's publication, the Business Committee had already instituted a new policy to provide up-to-date financial and business information to the public. This information can be viewed on the Tribe’s website at www.chippewacree.org/transparencypolicy.html or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/officialtribalbusinesscommittee/
“Statements and other information from the Chippewa Cree Tribe and our leaders have been delayed in order to refute this unfounded and harmful publicity,” Morsette said. “The Business Committee is working very hard to address multiple issues that our tribe is currently facing. We ask that our Tribal members and business partners please have patience as we work to take the Chippewa Cree in a positive direction.”