Who's the Chairman?
Are members of the Crow Legislature attempting a coup, or a legitimate removal of current Crow Chairman, A.J. Not Afraid, Jr.
Several members of the legislature say a legislative "no confidence" vote was taken, followed by, what they said, was a legal election.
According to Not Afraid, Jr., there was nothing legal about the election because it didn't meet the standards required by the Crow Constitution.
Carlson "Duke" Goes Ahead is the legitimately elected Vice Chairman of the Crow Tribe. He was elected to that position in 2016.
"I'm the elected Vice Chairman," said Goes Ahead. "Now I'm the Chairman."
Goes Ahead said on January 10th, 2019, the Crow Tribal Legislature passed a "no confidence" vote in Chairman A.J. Not Afraid. That vote passed 11 to 3.
"January 19th vote for General Counsel meeting of the Crow Tribe and that general counsel, according to the Crow Constitution, Article 8, there was a removal of the current chairman," explained Goes Ahead. He continued saying there was a new vote for Chairman, of which he said he won. Goes Ahead said since then, Not Afraid is refusing to allow the transition to occur.
"Refusing to recognize the roll of the legislature as the 3rd branch of government," said Thor Hoyte who is representing Goes Ahead. "All he (Not Afraid) wants to do is act as if he is the Chairman, God, and king, and that is what he is not."
The "no confidence" vote was the result of several allegations brought against Not Afraid.
"The Chairman has failed to have the payroll taxes paid," alleged Goes Ahead. "Now the Crow Tribe has incurred Internal Revenue Service tax liabilities with no plan to pay them."
Not Afraid said when he became chairman, the tribe had multiple previous quarters of non-payroll taxes.
"We've been trying to pay those," said Not Afraid. "We negotiated that to work with the IRS to come up with a payment plan to pay those payroll taxes. We shouldn't have done that, hence the reason for me retiring the accountant who was working over that payroll department. I relieved him of his duties as soon as we found that those taxes weren't being paid."
Another allegation against Not Afraid involves the sale of buffalo without the Legislature's permission.
"There was 368 buffaloes that were sold and it has to be approved," said Goes Ahead. "If you're going to sell some of our commodity, sell some of our assets, the buffalo is an asset, it has to be approved by the full Legislature."
"In the Constitution, the Executive has the right to negotiate, buy, sale buffalo," Not Afraid explained. "Every chairman, past practice, have sold buffalo, every chairman."
Goes Ahead also alleges Not Afraid misused Head Start funds.
"Head Start was appropriated $500,000, that's a federal fund, appropriated $500,000 and then they misused that money elsewhere and he stated he used that money for Crow Fair," alleged Goes Ahead.
Chairman Not Afraid said that allegation is not true.
"The accountants had set aside funds, early on in the year where the Crow Fair funds were available and they used that to front Head Start, so when those funds were reimbursed to the tribe, the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) said we're going to leave that in the Head Start account. By the time Crow Fair comes, we'll draw that down from there," responded Not Afraid.
Goes Ahead also said Not Afraid doesn't show up to meetings. He also said Not Afraid will schedule meetings and not go to them. When asked about that, Not Afraid said there is some truth to those allegations.
"When I don't show up, I usually delegate someone. Again, because there are so many emergencies, things going on, whether it's financial, whether it's work-related, whether it's personal. There was a time that my daughter got sick and we decided to take her to the hospital. We canceled all the meetings. Do you know anybody who ever had a child get sick?" Not Afraid responded.
A tribal judge recently ruled Not Afraid is the Chairman. In the meantime, Not Afraid's attorney has filed several motions, including one to make the tribal judge's ruling permanent.
Goes Ahead's attorney and some members of the Crow Legislature said there will be a new recall vote March 23.
Current state of the Crow Tribe
While the Crow Tribal Government seems uncertain at the leadership position, with a power struggle going on between the Chairman elected two years ago, and the Vice Chairman, who said an election held in January makes him the new chairman.
We asked Chairman A.J. Not Afraid, Jr. what the current economic state of the Crow Tribe is.
"Nobody wants to accept the fact that this mighty Crow Nation is kind of on its knees right now because of the lack of revenues," Not Afraid, Jr. answered. "What I was advised to do was stop the bleeding. It's been band-aided for decades, so after we peeled the band-aids off, we saw we had a big mess. As we attack things, we can only attack things one at a time."
Among other things, Not Afraid, Jr. said the blames the current financial crisis on years of neglecting to pay off debt, along with a major decline in revenues from coal. He said that debt has caught up with the tribe, and now, for the sake of the tribe's future, the debt has to go.
"If you have a high past debt, whether it's in loans or owing people, how can you move forward?" Not Afraid explained. "That's what we did these past two years is constantly pay things off, pay things off and that ate the general fund pretty quick."
Not Afraid admitted the depleted general fund has produced hardships for residents on the reservation, where according to a Montana State University survey, a quarter of the population is unemployed. The poverty rate, more than 30%.
A depleted general fund means fewer services for tribal members. The Chairman said if there's no hardship now, there won't be a Crow Tribe in the future.
"The Crow Tribal Government would be in a position where a federal magistrate, or a federal entity would come in and take over everything," Not Afraid said. "The federal government technically isn't, they're supposed to be our trustee, but they don't operate like one. They operate more like a referee, but when it comes to referee the tribes, they'll put all the tribe's assets out on a garage sale, and I believe this place has more value than that."
There's also the serious issue of drug and alcohol abuse among some tribal members. It's something Not Afraid said he's trying to fight, but said he's finding resistance, even death threats.
"You have leadership using meth. You have leadership on pills, so under the guise of those politicians, that's the thorn in my side," said Not Afraid. "I try to take it face on, but my family is the one who gets the blunt of it. So, meanwhile, I still attack it. I still fight it, and sadly my family hurts from it."
In the meantime, Not Afraid, who's come under intense political pressure to step down, said he'll keep fighting for the tribe's future.
"Like I said earlier, the analogy of 'we've got to stop the bleeding.' That's what we're doing and it's a hardship on the people, it really is, but I guarantee you, it's for the best of the future, it is. I may not be popular about it, but I see the future benefiting from it."