After years of turmoil and litigation, the leadership dispute within the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes is settled.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes consist of the Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne people who banded together in western Oklahoma. The small community of Concho serves as tribal headquarters and that’s where Governor Eddie Hamilton will carry on his elected duties as tribal governor, thanks in part to a recent court ruling by the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, or IBIA, recognizing the Cheyenne and Arapaho’s 2013 election as legitimate.
The leadership of the tribe has been in question since former Governor Janice Boswell and former Lt. Governor Leslie Wandrie-Harjo had a falling out, leading to competing claims of authority over tribal matters. Subsequent trial court rulings and decrees by different Bureau of Indian Affairs officials failed to resolve matters, so the IBIA stepped in to end the legal mayhem and allow newly elected tribal Governor Hamilton the opportunity to begin addressing the challenges caused by four years of tribal infighting and unease.
“At one point in 2012 our bank had frozen our accounts because of the leadership dispute, the claims that were being made to the bank,” Hamilton said. “It really disrupted the way of life for the tribe because we had to shut down in providing services to our tribal members, cut back on hours employees were able to work, some had to be furloughed.”
The tribe’s bank account is still frozen at the First Bank and Trust in Clinton and remains in legal limbo in the Custer County court system.
Hamilton says the tribe is also in pursuit of oil and gas per capita royalty checks that are equally distributed to Cheyenne and Arapaho members from tribal revenue.
Hamilton said the tribe will also pursue the Nez Perce settlement, an action similar to the Cobell litigation over the US government’s mismanagement of accounts and royalties for oil, gas, grazing land and timber rights. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe joined with 41 other tribes and were collectively awarded $1 billion. Unlike Cobell, this money has been appropriated and dispersed. This money is sitting in a bank waiting for the courts to make a decision.
Hamilton says the IBIA decision should “definitely help” with the legal disputes stemming from the dual governorships and expect favorable decisions from the courts.
Hamilton’s administration took office last January and he wants to believe it was a unifying factor.
“We've really made a lot of progression for our tribe when we came in and I hope that people can see that we are about the betterment of our people, that's our priority,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton does remain optimistic and sees the tribe’s powwow, the Oklahoma Indian Nations powwow, celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend, as a good way to bring the people together.
“It’s always good to see the fellowship and the congregation of our people and to invite other nations to come in and help celebrate as well,” Hamilton said.
Beginning and ending music by Cody Blackbird, from his new album Euphoria.
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