BILLINGS, Mont. - Who controls more than $2.4 million in Crow Tribal funds?
That's the question First Interstate Bank needs an answer to after being peppered with challenges from two separate factions claiming to have jurisdiction over the tribe's executive branch of government.
First Interstate Bank has long held the funds for the tribe, but recent strife within the tribe over who actually serves as Chairman and Secretary of the tribe.
First Interstate Bank has asked the federal court to take control of the account until the matter is settled.
First Interstate Bank is also asking to be dismissed from all liability while the defendants in the case interplead their claims and settle their rights to the Tribal funds.
First Interstate Bank asked that the court restrain the defendants from initiating any suits against them.
According to court filing this all began January 3 when Vice Chairman Carlson Goes Ahead and Vice Secretary Shawn Back Bone filed a petition seeking to recall Chairman A.J. Not Afraid and Secretary Knute Old Crow, alleging misuse of tribal funds and abuse of authority.
That vote did take place January 19.
But Not Afraid had filed a motion for a temporary restraining order the day prior. The Crow Civil Tribal Court granted the motion the next day. This was the same day the recall took place.
The temporary restraining order restrained Goes Ahead and Back Bone from performing tribal government functions or assuming or occupying the Chairman's "position, title or duty and financial signature authority" and maintained the status quo as of January 18, 2019.
Days later on January 22, the Crow Legislative Branch swore in Goes Ahead and the Tribe's new Chairman and Back Bone as the new Secretary.
Two days later First Interstate Bank received a letter requesting the bank suspend all of the Tribe's accounts until signature cards for Goes Ahead and Back Bone could be executed, which the bank did the following day.
Three days later the Bank received a letter from Not Afraid asserting the election that removed him as Chairman was illegitimate. Not Afraid further demanded the Bank recognize his authority as Chairman and authorize his financial transactions with the Bank on behalf of the Tribe. In that letter Not Afraid threatens to seek damages "on behalf of third parties that are harmed from the banks actions."
First Interstate Bank also states that they received a letter from Attorney General Arneson that requested suspensions be removed and alleged that First Interstate acted "unlawfully." Arneson also represented that Not Afraid was the legitimate Chairman of the Tribe and the legal signatory of the Tribe's accounts.
On January 30, First Interstate Bank was notified that the temporary restraining order had been extended and restored Not Afraid's authority over the Tribe's accounts.
The following day an e-mail arrived from the Crow Tribe Legislative Branch alleging that "tribal funds are being taken from tribal accounts 'without proper permission,'" and that the Bank's decision to adhere to the temporary restraining order, "had led directly to this looting of the Tribe's accounts occurring right now."
Then on February 1, counsel for First Interstate received a letter from Speaker Frank White Clay, alleging that First Interstate is "abetting the looting of tribal [monies]" and demanding a freeze on the Tribe's accounts.
On Monday, Chairman Not Afraid released the following statement in regards to the First Interstate Bank's civil action.
Chairman Alvin “A.J.” Not Afraid, Jr. remarked, “While I can withstand the pressure of lies and rumors, our government cannot function without funds. The freezing of our bank accounts may be a political victory for the Vice-Chairman and the Legislature, but it is devastating to Elders who are relying on their Elder Benefit checks. Those checks cannot be sent out now. This is devastating to our Crow kids, who are relying on Head Start and day care to provide them with an education. And it hurts dialysis patients who cannot make it to their appointments, without the Tribe being able to pay for their transport.”
The Chairman continued, “Halting services hurts Tribal Members – all of us – yet the Vice-Chairman and the Legislature are celebrating.”
"We need to move beyond petty politics. Therefore, I call on the Vice-Chairman to meet with me and mediate this issue, with a neutral third party, chosen by the BIA Regional Office. Let us sit down together – and I believe that we can work through our differences. We owe it to our Elders, our families, and to the Tribe. We must continue to move the Tribe forward."
On Monday the court sent out summons to each of the parties involved. It's the first step to resolving who has the authority to write checks on behalf of Crow Tribe.