ETHETE, Wyo. —
Maldonado, who also teaches a class about the tribe on the reservation, said it is relatively easy to address each point individually. But all four must be done together, and that's not easy, he added. "It's not just our reservation; this is commonplace with a lot of tribes."
There are about 10,000 enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho, which shares a large reservation southeast of Grand Teton National Park. For the most part, they live in trailers, lapped siding homes and farm houses scratched into the high plains at the foot of the Wind River Mountain Range.
Officials at the Northern Arapaho Business Council, which governs the tribe, contended in a statement that numerous negative audits the tribe received were "primarily a result of inadequate documentation and record-keeping." The statement added that the management issues "were many years in the making and will take time and considerable financial resources to fix."
The business council has ordered a "top to bottom review of all programs, both tribal and federal, to determine if improper spending is taking place and if personnel changes are required."
Gary Collins, a former chairman of the business council who serves as the Northern Arapaho liaison with the state, said the tribe participates in more than 60 federal programs, a number that presents challenges for auditing and accountability. "There's nothing really intentional," he said of any shortcomings.
Since the early 1970s, federal policy has favored letting tribes manage housing, health, welfare, law enforcement and other programs as they see fit. As this "self-determination" approach took hold, many tribes developed the financial savvy and governmental infrastructure to handle millions in federal money without major incident. But others, like the Northern Arapaho, have not.
Federal officials try to coach tribes to self-correct rather than punish them — both in deference to tribal "self-determination" and because there aren't enough staff to closely monitor the thousands of service contracts between tribes and the government.