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Potential chairmen engage in financial tug-o-war over Crow tribal funds
Thursday, February 14, 2019
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File photo by Andrew Turck

A member of the Crow Tribe’s general council votes Jan. 19 in a removal petition election for both Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid Jr. and Knute Old Crow, who at the time were Executive Branch chairman and secretary respectively. According to the results, which have been heavily contested, Not Afraid was recalled 1,063-63 and Old Crow 894-107.

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File photo by Andrew Turck

Knute Old Crow gives his six-month update to general council members the afternoon of Jan. 19 in Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. Though a removal petition election held that day indicates he was recalled, Old Crow believes not enough people voted to make the decision stick.

Tribal finances, a notoriously tricky subject, recently have made life more difficult at First Interstate Bank. Whether it likes it or not, the bank has become caught up within a now four-week dispute over Executive Branch leadership within the Crow Tribe.

Due to the power struggle stemming from a heavily-contested Jan. 19 recall election, court documents state, the bank “is unable to determine who are the authorized signers on the accounts holding the tribal funds.” If the election is legitimate, Goes Ahead would be acting tribal chairman and thereby control more than $2.4 million in account funds. If the election proves to be false, Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid Jr. – the chairman prior to the election – would retain his position and maintain control of the accounts.

As of Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan Watters granted a temporary restraining order against First Interstate by Not Afraid, thus allowing him account access. A hearing on the matter before Watters is scheduled at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14 in Billings.

“Temporarily lifting the hold on the Crow Tribe’s bank accounts now allows the tribe to return to normal operations,” Not Afraid said in a statement released that day. “We can pay our employees, send out elder benefit checks, and continue providing services to our kids and to those who need medical assistance. We will also continue to care for our cattle and buffalo herds.”

Prior to the court order, Goes Ahead’s faction had pushed for First Interstate to freeze the accounts until he could obtain a bank signature card in keeping with the chairmanship. Not Afraid’s faction, meanwhile, demanded it resist this option. Both groups threatened the bank with legal action if it chose to follow instructions from the other side.

Attempting to adjust to the mixed signals, First Interstate suspended the tribe’s accounts on Jan. 25, opened them Jan. 30 and resuspended them on Jan. 31. On Sunday, following Watters’ ruling, Goes Ahead said in a statement that what Not Afraid “convinced the court to do is unconstitutional and illegal.” Earlier, Crow Legislative Attorney Thor A. Hoyte wrote in a Jan. 31 letter to the bank’s legal counsel that “clearing the way for Not Afraid to sign for moneys” had led to the “looting of the tribe’s accounts.”

Responding to accusations in a State of the Crow Nation video released Tuesday morning, Not Afraid said it was, in fact, Goes Ahead’s faction and the Crow Legislative Branch who put the tribe in financial danger. On Jan. 29, he noted, his opposition authorized people who weren’t official tribal employees to take financial documents and blank checks from the Crow Tribal Finance Building. Now, he continued, anyone can try to cash these checks – not that Goes Ahead intends on using even the signed ones.

“I will not be cashing my payroll check that I received today,” Goes Ahead stated Saturday in a sentiment echoed by the Legislative Branch. “A.J. Not Afraid was removed as chairman on Jan. 19, 2019. He doesn’t have signature authority to sign any Crow tribal government checks.”

Constitution review

It was a quiet morning on Friday, Jan. 25 at the Crow Tribal Secretary’s Office as Knute Old Crow zeroed in on the “Removal and Recall” article of the Crow Constitution. This part has undergone higher scrutiny as of late by the tribe’s legal counsel teams, following the removal petition election where Old Crow may have been voted out as secretary in favor of Shawn Backbone.

Not Afraid was the election’s target, Old Crow said, based on two constitutional criteria – alleged “misuse of tribal funds” and “abuse of authority.” Polls were set up by Goes Ahead and Backbone, their fellow Executive Branch officials who at the time served as vice chairman and vice secretary respectively.

If the results are valid, Goes Ahead and Backbone will hold their new positions for 60 days after the recall, at which point a new election is scheduled.

Old Crow said he was approached before Goes Ahead and Backbone drafted the petition, and they asked him to join them in recalling the chairman. Without the “unanimous vote of the remaining officials not named in the petition,” the constitution states, a recall election can’t be organized. He saw they had drawn “a line out for me,” where he had to “go one side or the other.”

“I have nothing against Duke; he’s a friend of mine, and I didn’t want this to happen, but that’s the way they put it,” Old Crow said. “I couldn’t go against the chairman…He’s doing the best he can.”

With that, Old Crow joined Not Afraid on the recall ballot, where he apparently was voted out 894-107 and Not Afraid 1,063-63 by the Crow tribal general council – defined in the constitution as all enrolled members ages 18 and older “who are entitled to vote.” The council’s decision, according to the constitution, “shall be final.”

It’s worth noting that, as the election was occurring, Not Afraid told those supporting him not to vote because the proceedings were “invalid.” At the time, his counsel had advised him “two elected officials of the Executive Branch cannot remove the other two officials of the Executive Branch.” Though the Crow Constitution refers to the removal of an official in singular terms, nothing in the text specifically allows nor prohibits the recall of more than one Executive official at once.

“He was already removed by the general council and he [still] thinks he’s the chairman…It’s a done deal,” Goes Ahead told supporters Jan. 29 in the Legislative Branch chamber. Drawing applause, he added, “We’ll see him go.”

What Old Crow finds questionable about the election – among other aspects – is rooted in the fact that the Crow Constitution requires 25 percent of “the total number of members of the Crow Tribal General Council.”

The tribe, according to its Enrollment Department, has 8,982 potential voters, 25 percent of which would equal about 2,245 people. Even when only accounting for registered voters, Old Crow said, about 5,800 are available – meaning that 25 percent of them would be equal to an estimated 1,450 members.

In total, 1,126 general council members marked the ballot in Not Afraid’s recall and 1,001 in Old Crow’s, more than 300 short of the 25 percent necessary under these parameters.

“That’s what I’m standing on; that’s why I’m not leaving this office,” Old Crow said. “Twenty-five percent of the general council did not speak.”

Drawing from the past

The key phrase to understand Goes Ahead’s thinking is found in the Crow Constitution’s definition of the general council: Those who are “entitled to vote.”

To bring in one-fourth of the full general council for the recall election, according to Goes Ahead, was “unrealistic,” especially considering the tribe doesn’t have a system for absentee ballots.

Rather, he continued, the number was based on the amount of people who voted in the tribe’s November 2016 general election – about 4,100. He believes these people represent the “entitled,” whose amount then can be divided by four to make a 25-percent sample.

Using Goes Ahead’s system, only 1,025 voters would be required for the recall election; the Jan. 19 output meets these parameters.

Crow Tribal Court, he noted, “can’t review this process.” Nonetheless, Crow Tribal Court currently is reviewing this process. Court deliberations began Tuesday.

Speaking Tuesday, Feb. 5 on a radio program called The Big J Show, Not Afraid alleged that “so many regulations were broke” during the recall election. As an example, he mentioned that organizers extended the polls from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Win or lose, he said, he will abide by the decision from the Crow Judicial Branch.

“The judicial system is a great system to use, even though some don’t believe in [it],” Not Afraid told the show’s host. “If the judicial system finds that they’re in the right, I have no problem in moving on. No problem at all.”

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