By Lori Lovely
One of Indiana’s Native Americans’ long-standing grievances centers on Gov. Mitch Daniels’ refusal to appoint new members to the Native Indian Affairs Commission, resulting in a freeze of funds earmarked for their benefit.
Since a mass walk-out in 2008 deactivated the Commission, Gov. Mitch Daniels has refused to appoint new members. With no commission in place, not only do the Native Americans have no official political voice, but they are also unable to distribute funds generated by sales of the Land of Indian license plates to benefit the local Native American community.
Hope rose anew when Gov. Daniels signed House Bill 1002: Elimination of commissions, boards and committees into law on March 19, 2012. Among the many things it does is to transfer purview of the Native American Indian Affairs Commission, established in 2005, from the Department of Workforce Development to the Civil Rights Commission, effective July 1. The bill also transferred three other groups to the CRC: the Indiana Commission for Women, the Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs and the Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.
What it does not do, according to Brad Meadows, CRC manager, is change the function of any of the commissions. “They are stand-alone commissions,” Meadows says. “We’re simply providing staff and administrative support.”
Echoing Meadows’ message of continued autonomy, Jane Jankowski, Governor Daniels’ press secretary, said, “The bill simply consolidates the administration of several boards and commissions under a single entity. There are no operational changes. Funding is designated the same as it was under the Department of Workforce Development. It simply resides now with the Civil Rights Commission.”
Following the money
The Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission is funded by sales of the Land of Indian license specialty license plate. Twenty-five dollars from the sale of each plate is sent by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to a trust fund set aside for Indiana’s Native Americans, according to Dennis Rosebrough, BMW deputy commissioner of external affairs.
Julie Fletcher, BMV communications manager, says the change of jurisdiction does not affect how the BMV handles revenue from license plate sales. She explains that the money from the sale of each specialty plate is collected daily in an individual fund and turned over to the corresponding group — or, in this case, trust — on a monthly basis. According to the BMV, no money has left the account since early 2009, although Rosebrough denies all responsibility for the trust fund, explaining that the BMV’s involvement ends with the transfer of funds after the sale of the plates.
Even with the state’s recent consolidation of board oversight, the funding streams supporting the individual boards won’t co-mingle, allaying concerns voiced by some within the local Native American community that funds would be used for purposes other than those for which they were originally intended. Still, the administrative shift does nothing to change the stalemate that is effectively holding the funds hostage.
“The transfer from the DWD doesn’t affect the license plate; those funds stay in the same account,” Jamal Smith, CRC executive director, said in a recent interview.
But getting to the bottom of exactly how much money is in that account is difficult and confusing. Complicating matters even further, not a single BMV figure tracking sales or fund balance corresponds to the state auditor’s accounting reconciliations.
The balance of the non-interest-bearing trust fund stood at $150,685 as of June 30, 2011, according to Dan Bastin, the state auditor’s office settlement director.
The BMV reported sales of 2,246 Land of Indians plates sold since June 30, 2011, though the agency’s first response pegged that number at 1,886 (from Aug. 1, 2011 – June 25, 2012) and listed the June 2012 trust fund balance at $150,685, which didn’t account for any of the year’s sales.
If each plate adds $25 to the trust, the year’s sales should have added $56,150 to the fund, for a grand total of $206,835. But the auditor’s numbers report that the fund is still a little shy of this total.
As of June 30, 2012, the auditor’s office reported an account balance of $203,360. “These numbers have been reconciled,” Erin Sheridan, director of human resources for the office of the auditor of State of Indiana, said. “Our numbers are the correct, official numbers.”
According to Fletcher, the BMV CFO acquired their figures by accessing the trust account balance on the Alchemy financial reporting system used by the auditor’s office. However, Sheridan says they have a new financial system called PeopleSoft.
Unable to speculate on the discrepancy of the BMV’s figures, Sheridan said the auditor’s office works under Indiana State Auditor Tim Berry and that it is a completely separate entity from the BMV, which is under Gov. Daniels. “We’re just the bookkeeper,” she said.
Seating the Commission
However much money is in the fund, by law, no disbursements can be made until the commission is reseated. Founded by executive order in 2003 by the late Democratic Governor Frank O’Bannon, the commission’s purpose was to serve as an advisory group to federal, state and local government officials. It was assigned to study and make recommendations about issues affecting Indiana’s Native American community, such as employment, education, housing, health and civil rights. Although was not originally created to oversee funds from the license plates, the Commission took on that duty when proceeds from the plates were diverted from Historic Prophetstown when the Tippecanoe site redirected its focus from native peoples to historic farming.
According to Indiana Code 9-18-44, funds from the trust are to be used for any lawful purpose the Commission chooses. But the Commission, established in 2005, has been effectually disbanded since June 2008, when five of the Native American commissioners resigned en masse, citing issues with Gov. Daniels ranging from the failure to fill all the vacancies on the commission, which left the group gridlocked and ineffective, to broken promises and lack of administrative support.
With no commission in place to manage the trust fund, Debra Haza, Indiana resident and a member of an Odawa federally recognized tribe located in Michigan, hopes for some sort of outside accountability. More importantly, she hopes for a new commission. “We want Governor Daniels to reseat the Commission because they’re selling the plate on our behalf, but we haven’t been able to use the funding for the last three years.” Unfortunately, she believes he hasn’t made any attempt, despite the interest of numerous qualified applicants.
Explaining that the role of the CRC is largely clerical and qualifying his position by saying, “We can only do what the statute allows us to do,” Smith says that, “given the opportunity, we would be happy to have a conversation with the Governor and help seat it, but it’s at his discretion.”
Acknowledging the importance of tracking and accessing the funds earmarked for Indiana’s Native Americans, Kokomo resident Sally Tuttle, a member of the federally recognized Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and founder of Native Voices of Indiana (NAIVOI), said she is most concerned about the issue of representation.
“We still have no voice,” Tuttle says. “We have a law, but no voice. All I ask is for an equal seat at the table.”
Until Gov. Daniels or his successor take action, the state’s Native American population remains without the commission created on their behalf and unable to distribute the money collected to bolster their community. Nevertheless, Meadows says the CRC is “preparing for [the Native American Commission] like we are for the others: setting up a web site, publishing meeting minutes and organizing files and office space. We want to be ready for when they’re seated.”
Other government branches are also preparing. In June, the House renewed the June 2011 appointment of Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, to the Native American Commission. The Senate appointed Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, who sponsored the original bill creating the commission. Sen. Waterman declined to comment on his appointment or the Commission.
The timing of the two appointments just happens to coincide with the change of purview, but as Rep. Leonard explains, all interim study committees and other Speaker appointments are reevaluated at this time of year.
It’s an appointment Leonard sought, due to his interest in Native American history. He wants to see the commission back together and functioning, and further hopes “to open up communication between the administration and the commission.” But he doesn’t know if his appointment signals imminent re-seating of the commission by the Governor. Appointing Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, in 2010 was not a precursor to re-seating it.
“We have filled our appointment like we are supposed to,” Leonard says. “You will have to ask the Governor’s office [when he will reseat the Commission].”
Refusing to be rushed into action, Jankowski repeats her statement from last year: The governor does “not have a timetable for new appointments to the commission.” Meanwhile, as sales of the vanity plate continue, money accumulates that cannot be managed or spent by the very people it was intended to benefit.
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