January 17, 2017

Apache citizens press for BIA to recognize tribal chairman

COURTESY  Apache tribal citizens sit Tuesday, June 21, 2011, in front of the regional Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Anadarko .They want to know who their recognized tribal chairman is and they aren’t leaving without an answer.

ANADARKO, Okla. – A protest for leadership has citizens of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma waiting in the thick summer heat for a decision to be made by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Some Apache tribal members began protesting on June 21 outside the regional BIA office in Anadarko, Okla. They want to know who their recognized tribal chairman is and they aren’t leaving without an answer.

Tribal voters elected Louis Maynahonah and Nghia Ngu in March 2010 as their chairman and vice-chairman, respectively. However, days after being sworn into office there was conflict and concern over finances.

“I was elected into office and two days after the casino called me and said they had a set of checks they thought I needed to see … what they showed me was checks to the secretary/ treasurer’s husband … so I asked if he had a contract that would say he was allowed to get that money and they said there was no contract. When I asked the wife, the secretary/treasurer, she didn’t know, so a bunch of tribal members went with me; again she said she didn’t know,” Ngu said. “Again, we were all working as one unit. A couple of days after that the chairman said he wasn’t going to put myself or another committee member on the bank accounts because he didn’t trust us. So I started a petition for his removal.”

Ngu said the tribes’ business committee then passed a resolution to retroactively disqualify him from elected office, 19 days after he was sworn in, citing he was ineligible because he became indebted to the tribe while he served as gaming commissioner two years earlier.  A charge Ngu said was “doctored up” to make it look like he owes money.

“Then they started to tell the BIA and the tribal people that I’d been removed,” Ngu said. “According to our election ordinance, I was supposed to be notified five days before of any ineligibility.”

There have been four council meetings where it was decided Maynahonah was removed as chairman, Ngu said. Two special tribal council meetings were held specifically to discuss the chairmanship, and most recently the position was debated and decided upon during the tribes’ June 18 annual tribal council meeting.

Ngu said, “as interim chairman, as I believe I was, called a meeting” for the tribes’ annual meeting at the Apache A.O.A building in Anadarko, while Maynahonah scheduled the annual meeting at the Fort Sill Indian School in Lawton, Okla.

“I had to make a decision. Do I go and make my own meeting or do we take our people down to his meeting and take it over. The night before we made a decision to take his because the BIA usually recognizes the incumbent while there’s a tribal dispute,” Ngu said.

Ngu said during the four-hour annual general council meeting, the business committee, to include the new appointed vice-chairman, and Maynahonah were removed from office by an overwhelming vote. A resolution was passed reaffirming “the validity of the special tribal council meeting held on April 30, 2011 for the purpose of removing former chairman Louis Maynahonah and former secretary treasurer Marquita Carattini.”

However, Maynahonah continues to work at the tribes’ headquarters and remains on the tribes’ bank accounts along with the secretary/treasurer and a business committee member. The accounts were previously frozen by the bank because of the dispute.

“Whatever they done is illegal and without a cause,” Maynahonah said. “They’re not being in line with our tribal constitution.”

Maynahonah said he did not refuse to put Ngu on the tribes’ bank accounts, yet does acknowledge Ngu was not on them.

“There’s several radical people following him and they don’t abide by our constitution and they follow him around like I don’t know what. I don’t know what he’s told them but he’s got their following,” Maynahonah said. “And the BIA is still recognizing me as chairman. I will say that because I get letters from them calling me chairman Maynahonah.”

Maynahonah said he’s not saying the BIA recognizes him per se, but when it comes to government relations they do. He said the BIA personnel at the area office do not want to get involved and feel the dispute is an inner tribal matter. “I respect their decision,” he said.

Ngu heard the same response from the BIA when he tried to submit information stating Maynahonah was voted out of office.  Ngu said he acquired 110 signatures for his petition to hold a special recall general council meeting to remove Maynahonah.

“Eighty-nine people show up, 82 voted to remove,” Ngu said. “We went to the process of turning that into the BIA, Anadarko agency. At that point (they said) we don’t get involved politically so you guys will have to settle it.”

The dispute was also heard in District Court of Caddo County in Anadarko and may continue there because the judge in the case feels he has jurisdiction, Ngu said.

“What the judge told all of us was that the quorum of the business committee, because these three individuals signed a petition and that automatically waved sovereign immunity to give him the ability to adjudicate on a tribal matter,” Ngu said.

Jeremy Oliver, Ngu’s attorney, said an appeal has since been filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on jurisdictional matters.

“We’re just seeking to enforce the law of the constitution and … tribal council has voted,” Oliver said. “We’re just trying to gain enforcement for their vote and for what they believe in; who they believe the leadership of the tribe is, and be in the capacity to run it,” Oliver said.

Maynahonah said Ngu is violating the tribes’ constitution by claiming to be the interim chairman because “there’s no position in the Apache tribe as an interim chairman.”

Oliver said there must be an interim chairman to run the business committee since everybody in the committee has been formally removed and Ngu is the acting chairman until the new business committee can be installed.

“I’m working for the good of the Apache people. I have no intent of bringing back any old … business committee members,” Ngu said.

Maynahonah said his opinion is that the dispute stems from lawsuits regarding the previous business committee.

As of press time, the BIA has not given the Apache people a response, and the protest outside the regional office continues.