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Guest View By Ross Johnson

Over the last couple of weeks, I must have been asked the same question over and over: What is happening on the Tuscarora Reservation? I've met with numerous members of the reservation and have received excellent ideas and suggestions, but here is a summary of "what's going on."

The issues stem from a dysfunctional government that has been operating this way since I can remember. Our reservation was split apart during the Tuscarora Bingo protests, causing dissension between families back in 1988-89. Since then, the "Chiefs" have been running the reservation without the input of the enrolled members. No one has any idea how decisions are being made, how money is being spent. This type of system is operating with no accountability whatsoever.

The "Chiefs" do what they think is right. Tuscarora members didn't think that there were too many decisions of importance, so it was not a big problem. Now, this same type of dysfunctional government appointed Neil Patterson Sr. and Neil Patterson Jr., along with a non-native attorney to represent the nation during the negotiations with the New York Power Authority for the relicensing agreement, and the "Chiefs" were given $100 million over 50 years.

Before the agreement was final, the "Chiefs" set up a Financial Advisory Committee, which I was a part of, that had no actual power whatsoever; it was just a show for the "Chiefs" to make it appear that members had a say in what happens to their own money. Numerous times during the course of these meetings, we were reminded that we were just an "advisory" committee, and that the "Chiefs" had final say over how the money was spent.

After about the fourth reminder, I left the committee after realizing what it was. The "Chiefs" had the Clan Mothers set up Clan meetings to talk about how the money would be spent and to come up with ideas. Again, just a show. Once the money was received, the Financial Advisory Committee was disbanded, and no further Clan meetings were held, everything had stopped. There hasn't been one single open meeting since the money was received concerning how it would be spent, the money simply disappeared as far as a regular nation member was concerned. The "Chiefs" had control of it and no one could do anything about it, until now.

A Community Building was built with nation money that was paid to a contractor who does not appear to hire even one nation member. With many of our tradespeople unemployed, it seemed insane that a labor agreement wasn't reached that would employ more Tuscarora at the job site. The Niagara Falls Reporter discovered that the nation invested in casinos and other businesses. None of our "regular" nation members would have known any of this, we were still under the impression that the agreement was for $55 million over 50 years because that's what we were told.

I personally became involved in this after I couldn't tolerate this type of dysfunctional government any longer, and I know I'm not alone. Our nation could have so many programs for our children, money for businesses, a source of income for the nation that each member would benefit from, and more. But with our current leaders, it will never happen. We will continue to become more reliant on public assistance from New York state. Since we have so many people who are struggling to pay their bills and the "Chiefs" have all but gone into hiding when it comes to discussions of the money, it compels me even more to try and do something about it.

I have set up a meeting on July 23 at 1 p.m. so that regular nation members can get together and explore our options. I don't have all the answers, just my own opinions. I'm sure that a lot of our members have great ideas and ways to fix our problem, that's why I'm trying to get everyone together.

We need to fix our government before it's too late. I personally believe that this type of Chief and Clan Mother system is not capable of handling this type of responsibility. Chiefs and Clan Mothers need to be held accountable, and with no meetings held and no information given, it just doesn't work with that amount of money.

I personally feel that we can still have Chiefs and retain our traditions and culture with an elected type of government. Each Clan would elect one Chief and two Councilors who would represent the clans. A lot of Tuscarora feel that an elected type of government would somehow affect our sovereignty, but that's not true. I feel that our current government is jeopardizing our sovereignty more than any elected government would. Our people need to have a voice in how things are being done on the reservation, and with all the recent publicity about it, more and more people are coming forward to help.

I've been asked a few times why i write "Chiefs" in quotation when I refer to our current government. I do this because our leaders that are in control of our money consist of two aspiring Chiefs, a Tribal Clerk, and a self appointed Chief. Maybe that will put it into perspective for you.

I have no personal feelings against them. I believe that they all had or have good intentions. But when nothing is being done to address the hundreds of questions about the nation's money, it makes me suspicious. When all the clan meetings and the Financial Advisory Committee was disbanded once we received the money, it makes me suspicious. When not one enrolled member was given a dime of our money, it makes me suspicious.

My question is, how long will it be before a federal court and investigators become suspicious as well? This is what will jeopardize our sovereignty as an independent nation. We need to get together and fix our government on our own. I understand that our nation's "dirty laundry" shouldn't be aired in public, I agree with that statement. But when you create that "dirty laundry" and do nothing to address the concerns of your own people, then it's time for change.

On July 23, our members will begin to decide how our nation moves forward.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 19, 2011