Big Crow resigns as OST treasurer
PINE RIDGE—After a dozen years as Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) Treasurer, Mason Big Crow resigned as treasurer after a “Special Meeting” of the OST council, and the official announcement from OST President Frank Star Comes Out (Dated September 7) gave no more details about why the special meeting was called or why Big Crow resigned.
NSNT informed sources have been unable to determine why Big Crow resigned.
Referring to Article III Section 6 of the OST constitution, Star Comes Out announced this gave the council the authority to pass Resolution No. 23-189 to appoint Cora White Horse to serve temporarily as tribal treasurer. White Horse is presently a Council Member and Chairwoman of the Finance Committee.
Controversy followed Big Crow from the time he became OST treasurer back in 2011. The day after the OST council first selected Big Crow as treasurer the council voted 11-8 to rescind their vote. Wakpami District Council Member Sonia Little Hawk Weston said, “It appears that currently (Big Crow) is not a (tribal) member, his enrollment is pending.”
Big Crow had already served two years as assistant treasurer. He submitted a de-enrollment letter from The Northern Arapaho tribe to the enrollment office in 2010, and the enrollment committee met and voted 7-0 to enroll him into OST. Big Crow assumed that meant he was enrolled, a reasonable assumption, but apparently the paperwork required more time.
Big Crow made very clear back then where his focus as OST Treasurer would be: “We have been working hard to create a process that is as transparent as possible and develop all the necessary procedures and follow them so the tribe has a clean audit each year.”
In the years that followed, Big Crow was re-selected as treasurer, time and again. In 2012-13, OST submitted clean audits. At that time OST Comptroller Dean Patton said: “It really bothers me when people talk about corruption at the Oglala Sioux Tribe. We’ve come a long ways over the past several years, from having $10 million in dis-allowed costs and adverse auditor judgements to the 2010 and 2011 audits, both clean, submitted on time with no dis-allowed costs.”
Cracks started to show in 2015. OST ended the year with a $3 million deficit which Big Crow said was covered by taking money from an Indian Health Services settlement. Then came 2016. It is standard operating procedure for bureaucrats to take credit for success and assign blame for failure, and in 2016 the audit went dirty, and there was a $7.3 million deficit in the OST general fund to account for. Big Crow had this to say: “There are many expenditures that are not backed up by necessary documentation, our internal control system was bypassed and we under collected quite a bit of revenue that was due the tribe – come audit time, we’re going to struggle with disallowed costs.”
The question arises, who was ultimately responsible for overseeing that documentation, and maintaining the internal control system and under collecting revenue?
Big Crow did try to take steps to communicate with tribal members. He and assistant Garfield Steele established a schedule to attend district meetings to explain OST finances and promote transparency. But whether the schedule was kept, or the transparency achieved, no information is available.
Big controversy arrived in 2019. Two OST districts split a $50,000 donation from the KXL Pipeline (TransCanada Corp.). OST finance committee voted 4-0 for a full investigation. More significantly, the finance committee voted for the removal of their Chairwoman, Cora White Horse, for “no confidence” in her ability to meet her responsibilities as Chairwoman. According to NSNT reporter Talli Nauman, specifically for: “for failing to inform the rest of the committee when she found out about the check’s existence.”
Big Crow released a statement informing OST that these District dealings were separate and not under his direct management. Big Crow: “The OST tribe does not accept donations from any oil pipeline companies,,,but the OST council cannot speak for the districts.”
White Horse, Big Crow’s temporary replacement as treasurer, also faced controversy in 2019 over pain pills. An NSNT article stated: “According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, White Horse was arrested by Rosebud tribal police on July 4. She was charged with the illegal distribution of prescription drugs and bonded out for $2,500. However, over the weekend, the arrest, and the subsequent reaction, were leaked onto social media.”
White Horse was vindicated of these charges, but when coupled with her removal as finance chair it does raise questions about her competence and judgement.
In fall of 2022, Big Crow’s Pine Ridge residence was burned to the ground. He lost 12 dogs. There is no definitive evidence of who set the fire, but evidence suggests it was deliberate.
Big Crow’s time as tribal treasurer weathered a lot of storms and came out of the starting blocks with two impressive clean audits. But as the years rolled by one controversy after another surfaced, whether it was trips to bass fishing tournaments, or a lack of the very transparency Big Crow promised, it all came to an end last week.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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