Southern Ute Tribal Members:
Yesterday, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel released to the media a biased report detailing a legal settlement between the BIA and a former local BIA agency employee. Within the report the Tribe is misrepresented as actively trying to skirt environmental regulations, then seeking retaliation for a BIA employee “whistleblower” who had refused to let environmental mandates slide. This is simply not the case. While it is true that we requested the BIA reassign this particular employee, it was not for the reasons stated in the OSC report. Rather, it was the result of years of wanton incompetence, disrespect for the Tribe and its employees, and disregard for the Tribe’s sovereignty. This action was taken only after months of repeated attempts to work with the local office and this individual in a constructive way.
At the time, the local BIA office was subject to two Office of Inspector General inquiries, at least three General Accountability Office investigations, at least one internal BIA investigation, and at least three negative Office of Special Trustee records assessments. These governmental reports detailed the deplorable condition of the records and files of the BIA’s local office and the lack of resources to deal with the Tribe’s oil and gas activities. We want to emphasize that tribal leadership and staff acted in the Tribe’s best interest and at no time was anyone asked to do anything illegal. In fact, with the assistance of the Tribe’s departments and legal staff, almost all of the pending projects were ultimately completed, despite delays by BIA. As you know, the United States and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe recently reached a settlement in the Sisseton lawsuit that related to the Department of the Interior’s (and specifically the BIA’s) breach of trust, including damages for BIA delays. Despite all this, the Tribe continues to work with the BIA to build a constructive relationship and now works productively with the local BIA office and its current staff.
We take our role as caretakers and stewards of our land, water, and air very seriously. We owe it to the Creator and the future generations to leave the Earth as we found it. We just recently won a Clean Air Excellence award from the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act Advisory Committee for our work in environmental regulation and compliance. Additionally, the Tribe has received local recognition for its response to the Gold King Mine release. The Tribe has never tried to sidestep its legal or environmental responsibilities. In fact, some of the Tribe’s environmental stipulations are more stringent than federal requirements.
Despite a three and a half-year “investigation”, report submittal, and lawsuit settlement process, the OSC NEVER made the Tribe aware of the lawsuit and never asked for the perspective of the Tribe or the individuals involved. We find it odd that the OSC decided now, at the verge of a new administration, to release this information in a public setting. We only found out about this “whistleblower” lawsuit when the media started to contact us for comment. Even more unsettling is that this “training document” respected the confidentiality of all parties except the Tribe, again without even a courtesy call to let the Tribe know we were being named. This calls into question not only the legitimacy of the investigation, but also the true intent of these actions.
The complete disregard for the Tribe and its reputation is disheartening to say the least. The situation in Standing Rock resulted from the federal government refusing to consult with Native peoples in the area and this is much the same. At this time, our requests for additional information from the OSC have not been answered. Rest assured that we will continue to seek answers to our inquiries and will continue to pursue the true nature of this report and the OSC actions.
Our first thought is to tribal members and ensuring that they receive information from the Tribe’s perspective, not from a biased media source and mischaracterized report. We want to reiterate our concern for the environment and its impact on our tribal members.
Southern Ute Tribal Council