A series of public meetings about proposed per capita (per cap) payments have opened up a debate about the best use of Tribal resources and whether there should be a payout of $500 per Tribal member before Christmas or if the money should be used to fix many problems facing residents of the Reservation.
The meetings also exposed a split in council over the issue.
In Peridot on Thursday, Nov. 29, a standing-room only gathering of Tribal members at San Carlos High School heard Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler and Vice Chair Tao Etpison explain the payout that went before Tribal Council on Dec. 4 (after press time).
Funding for the per capita payments comes from a $60 million Natural Resources Mismanagement fund that came as a result of a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government over Tribal water rights.
According to Rambler, at a Nov. 30 Tribal finance committee meeting, Tribal Treasurer Kevin Cronk “reported that approximately $10.7 million dollars was immediately available for per capita distribution.”
The committee narrowly voted to take the payments to Tribal Council for approval.
Councilman John Bush, who ran unsuccessfully for Tribal chairman in the recent election, and Councilman Velasquez W. Sneezy, Sr., voted to oppose the payments. Councilmembers Simon Hooke and Jonathan Kitcheyan voted in favor, so it was up to Finance Committee Chair and Seven Mile Wash Councilwoman Bernadette Goode to break the tie.
“This decision shows that the San Carlos Apache Tribe is not broke and is in good financial standing,” Rambler posted on his Facebook page. “Otherwise, how could the Finance Committee approve this action? The good thing about per capita is that not only do all enrolled tribal members benefit equally but an investment is made in the future of our youth. Per Capita does not discriminate, once approved by the San Carlos Council, all tribal members will receive checks, whether they oppose or are in favor of per capita.”
The community meetings served as an opportunity to get feedback from Tribal members and encourage them to sign a petition in favor of the payments to shore up support for councilmembers who voted for it.
There is acknowledgment that immediate payments could go to good use for many poor members of the Tribe, there was also the feeling that the money could be better used long-term, for infrastructure and social programs.
Additionally, Rambler came under fire for alleged promises to pay out $1,500 during his campaign that have been seen as tantamount to payoffs for votes.
While Rambler said he never promised that amount — saying the emcee of his Bylas rally spoke out of turn — several members of the Tribe claim he promised $1,500 in time for Christmas at a campaign rally in Bylas.
Several people at the Peridot meeting expressed doubt that the $500 payouts would be beneficial to the Tribe in the long run.
Faye Polk spoke at length about Tribal relations and said if there is a per cap payout, she wants what Rambler allegedly promised during his campaign.
“I don’t want that $500: I want that $1,500 that was promised to me,” she said.
She the read the petition to “approve a one-time per-capita payment to each enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe,” and ceremoniously tore it in half.
“You have to think about the long run,” Polk said.
Bush, who filed a complaint against the Tribe’s General Election Board, called the per cap payments a “bribe” by Rambler, and requested an independent investigation by the U.S. government.
The complaint was denied and Bush had until Dec. 4 to file an appeal.
He said that he does not want to be seen as a sore loser but wants what is best for the Tribe, acknowledging that while his “brothers and sisters” need the money, it can be used for investment into the future.
“That $1,500 was promised to the people,” Bush said, referring to Rambler’s Bylas campaign rally. “You have to look out for the future of your people.”
He also pointed out many unmet needs, from a landfill site to law enforcement issues to dealing with blight that is rampant throughout the Reservation.
Etpison responded that there are some issues with the election and “the election happened, let’s leave it aside” and the meeting was about “whether we want per cap or whether we don’t want per cap.”
“This is not the time for bashing or lashing out about election results,” he said.
Peridot resident Tia Early said that it was time for her district to have a second representative, as it is the largest district on the Reservation.
Early, who is in favor of the per cap payments, asked for clarification on Tribal investments and questioned how mismanaged Tribal funds will affect the Tribe.
“What’s happening with the money? How does it affect us?” she asked. “We were promised a community center and a lot of things, but we aren’t there yet.”