Akwesasne, NY- January 18th, 2017, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe (SRMT) released a response to an Indian Time Letter to the Editor published on January 12th, 2017 by Ms. Ruth Bell, the Elders Benefit Committee spokesperson, regarding the approved Elder’s benefit. This benefit was put to referendum and approved by Tribal members on December 3rd, 2016. Given the appropriate appeal time, this benefit was certified by the Tribal Election Board on December 13th, 2016. Ms. Bell made a motion to the floor to make the first payment of the Elder’s Benefit to be made payable effective December 13th, 2016; a count was conducted and the motion passed.
The letter published in the Indian Time by spokesperson Bell demonstrated the group’s dismay with Tribal Council in regards to the potential start date of the distribution of the Elders Benefit, as well as concern over information that was “not shown to the people.” ATV Staff was able to contact Tribal Council to clarify these disturbing allegations.
After a series of informational community meetings were held for the Elders Benefit prior to the December 3rd referendum, it was clear that the Seniors Benefit Committee did not have a supporting budgetary plan to determine the programs and services that will be impacted by this Elders Benefit. Estimations have been made in accordance with the referendum criteria, and it has been determined that this benefit will cost the SRMT around $15.4 million for the years 2017 – 2021; with annual expenses to be between $2.4 to $2.5 million dollars.
Tribal Council stated in their response to the Letter to the Editor that “it is incumbent upon Tribal Council to ensure that the community understand the essential budgetary processes and the programs that serve our community are minimally impacted.” The SRMT is seeking a maximum of nine (9) Tribal members to voluntarily serve on an Elders Benefit Working Group that engages a volunteer committee spanning the generations: our Elders, our Tribal members between the ages of 30 – 61, and our youth, 18 – 29.
Ms. Bell expressed her disgust with Tribal Council in her letter, claiming a previous motion was made and passed at the December 2016 Tribal Meeting in which she believed “allowed the committee to appoint the members that would sit on the Elders Benefit Program board.” Bell also claims that at the meeting the committee’s objection of this call out was voiced, and that Tribal Council never asked the committee, nor did it listen to them.
Bell cited the SRMT Strategic Plan’s Organization Chart, in which the top of the organization begins with Tribal Members and all elected officials are listed underneath the members. “To me that means they answer to us,” stated Bell, “However, Tribal Council actions recently do not indicate to me that they believe that is the chain of command!”
SRMT Tribal Council clarified this organization chart stating that, “the provisions of the 2013 Tribal Procedures Act give tribal members a voice and participation in tribal government. It provides tribal members with the ability to make motions from the floor at tribal meetings, initiate petitions that call for a referendum, comment on the annual tribal budget draft, as well as to include topics for discussion at the monthly tribal meeting by contacting the Tribal Council’s office the Monday before the scheduled meeting. Building upon the 1994 Procedures Act, the 2013 Tribal Procedures act provides for increased transparency and accountability of tribal government to the membership.”
Ms. Bell stated in her January 12th letter that after Chief Cook gave a PowerPoint presentation in transparency of council taking the appropriate steps to implement this program, Bell was handed a copy of the presentation after the Tribal Meeting concluded, and claims that one slide was not shown to the people. This slide outlined the Tribal Council Boards, Commission, Committees Working Group Appointment Process; which reads as follows:
“Tribal Council Boards, Commission, Committees Working Group Appointment Process: 1. Working Group callout is posted to the community; 2. Tribal Council reviews submissions, recommendations and deliberates to select candidates; 3. Letter sent to successful candidates: A. Candidate to review guiding principles; B. Candidate accepts and submits to criminal background check and drug screening. 4. Tribal Council Resolution will give authority to Working Group and appoint members.
Tribal Council respectfully answered ATV staff on this matter stating, “Tribal Chief Beverly Cook was in the process of a presentation of steps the Tribal Council has taken in accordance with the 2013 Tribal Procedures Act following last month’s referendum. During the last slide, Bell restated her previous motion from the floor. The final slide of the presentation was left on the screen and handouts of the presentation were available. The presentation, in its entirety, can be viewed on the tribe’s website, under “publications and documents.”
This annual expense is a “significant budgetary increase to the Tribal General Fund,” according the SRMT Tribal Council, it would be in the best interest of the community that a working group be formed, “to research, assess and propose options to successfully implement a benefit.”
SRMT Tribal Council has stated in their response to Ms. Bell’s letter that the “2013 Tribal Procedures Act sets a framework for community members to have a voice and promote transparency and accountability. In this spirit of transparency, Tribal Council has promoted a callout for an SRMT Elders Benefit Working Group, the first step in setting the wheels in motion, to find a way to provide our Elders with a monthly benefit.”
Due to the fact that the Seniors Benefit Committee did not have a proposed budgetary plan, Tribal Council found it necessary to implement this callout for an SRMT Elders Benefit Working Group. In accordance with the SRMT Tribal Procedures Act, Tribal Council Procedures Act of 1994 Amended- Final Draft Revision: April, 2013, “If the Referendum results in a vote to accept the Pending Ordinance: a) The Election Board will ensure the Appeal Process of the Referendum Election process, is adhered to. b) The Election Board will certify the Referendum Election Vote and present the certified vote to Council. c) The Pending Ordinance is enacted and Tribal Council shall take all steps necessary to implement the Ordinance.”
SRMT Tribal Council feels that this working group is a necessary in order to correspond and meet with Tribal Council and staff, to compile and review information on the proposed benefit, to discuss possible options for funding, and to suggest criteria or eligibility standards of this Elders Benefit. This volunteer working group will also be attending and presenting informational meetings to the public in regards to this benefit. The closing date for this callout is Friday, January 27, 2017.
Tribal Council has told ATV Staff that, “It is feasible the Elders Benefit Working Group may be in place well before March,” given the appropriate time for submission considerations, as well a joint review by Tribal Council and the Elders Benefit Committee. “The first steps of the working group will be to set a regular meeting schedule to work on accomplishing their mandate. The timeline [to get the Elders Benefit up and running] will be dependent on the progress of the SRMT Elders Benefit Working Group.
SRMT Tribal Council is in accordance with numerous policies in regards to the Elders Benefit, which include: the 2013 Tribal Procedures Act, Finance Policy, Corporate Compliance Policy, Ethics Ordinance, Native American Preference Policy, Safety Policy, and the Election and Referendum Ordinance. Copies of all policies may be viewed on the SRMT website.
For full criteria of this Callout for the Elders Benefit Working Group, or any SRMT Policy or Procedure, please visit: