Freedom of Information Act requests sent out last week to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Environmental Protection Agency may shed some light on how Tuscarora Nation of Indians money is being spent by tribal Clerk Leo Henry, Neil Patterson Sr., his son Neil Jr., and Kendra Winkelstein, the Grand Island attorney who has become a powerful force in Tuscarora politics and finance.
Together, Henry, the Pattersons and Winkelstein are the de facto leaders of the tribe, despite the fact that only Henry is a tribal chief.
The Pattersons have no official authority, having been denied chief status after protests from a number of Tuscarora Clan Mothers in May, and Winkelstein is not an Indian of any sort.
The FOIA requests are meant to determine who Winkelstein actually works for, how much she's being paid out of tribal funds and the specifics of the relationship between the EPA and a Patterson-controlled company, Tuscarora Environment Program.
A New York State Freedom of Information Law request has also been sent to the state Power Authority seeking information about how much of the one megawatt of power received by the Tuscaroras under the 2007 relicensing settlement is actually being taken in the form of free power and how much is being paid in cash.
While the annual power allotment is more than enough to provide free electric service to every household on the Tuscarora Reservation, many homes there have no power at all due to disputes various families have had with Henry and the Pattersons. Attempts to determine how many, if any, reservation households are receiving free electrical power have been unsuccessful.
One megawatt of power is currently valued at about $400,000.
"The BIA, the EPA and the Power Authority are required to keep records on all this," said a source close to the freedom of information requests. "Unlike our own tribal government, where meetings are held and decisions are made in secret, the state and federal governments require transparency and recognize the people's right to know how their money is being spent."
Documents obtained through the effort will be turned over to U.S. Department of Justice attorneys who have already been in contact with some on the reservation, the source added.
Many on the reservation were outraged by a June 7 article in the Niagara Falls Reporter in which state Sen. George Maziarz said the Tuscarora settlement with the state Power Authority amounted to $100 million.
Previously, Henry and the Pattersons led clan representatives to believe the settlement was somewhere between $21 million and $55 million.
In recent weeks there have been secret meetings, attempts to intimidate Clan Mothers who have spoken out on the issue and a growing feeling of unrest on the reservation.
The tension comes as the Tuscaroras prepare for their 166th Annual Tuscarora Picnic and Field Days, a traditional celebration of tribal values open to Tuscaroras and non-natives alike. The festivities will begin this year on Friday, July 8, starting at 5 p.m. and continue all day on Saturday, July 9.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||July 5, 2011|