PowWows.com Forums - Native American Culture

PowWows.com Forums - Native American Culture (http://forums.powwows.com/)
-   Native Issues (http://forums.powwows.com/f26/)
-   -   Apache tribe’s ‘Erin Brockovich’ (http://forums.powwows.com/f26/apache-tribe-s-erin-brockovich-17344/)

Smokin' Ace 02-13-2004 03:56 PM

Apache tribe’s ‘Erin Brockovich’
Apache tribe’s ‘Erin Brockovich’
Battling big oil and government for justice

Posted: January 16, 2004 - 10:51am EST
by: Mary Pierpoint / Correspondent / Indian Country Today

In an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today, a woman using her own money and time is fighting for the future of Apache tribal members. This is the first in a series of how one woman took on big oil companies, the State of Oklahoma and the Department of the Interior to make them keep the promises they had broken. Although the slow process of investigating has gone on for almost 40 years, the next few months may find that the tenacity of one family will make oil companies and governments accountable for breaking those promises, opening the way for thousands of others who had been cheated of land, royalties and benefits in the past 200years.

APACHE, Okla. - Emily Saupitty is seeking justice for a group of people who she believes have been cheated out of oil and gas royalties since the 1960s. Her battle is against several oil companies, at least seven of which she calls "major oil companies" that have become rich off Indian land, while many of the people living on the land barely survive. Saupitty has taken over where her recently-deceased mother left off in the battle, but as she has worked to untangle the web of paperwork and questionable business dealings she has found that more than just the $8 million in unpaid royalties is at stake; there is also the cancer and lupus clusters which are slowly killing her relatives and neighbors. A reality that goes back to oil and gas leases forced on tribal members in the early part of the 20th century.

One of Saupitty’s cousins, Millie Tapedo of Lawrence, Kan. has been knocking on doors for years, along with Saupitty’s mother and another cousin, to find out why money owed to them for their gas and oil royalties continued to dwindle even during the oil boom of the 1980s.

"It started in 1932, the oil royalties," Tapedo remembered. "It was good because there was good money coming in. But over the years since my dad passed away, I became the heir to it. Since then I began to look into it, the contract that my dad signed, probably the same one that all of them signed around there, and there was no way that if a new owner comes in that you can do anything. You just inherit what he signed and that’s it. The contract was a binding agreement that you can’t change."

Tapedo was concerned that the people who signed the contracts weren’t the ones who had negotiated them, a fact that has been backed up by documentation found by Saupitty. A law, which was in effect at the time the leases were signed, allowed agency superintendents to sign for minors and those believed to be incompetent.

"What I cannot understand," Saupitty said, "is that many minors had the government sign for them and yet their parents were alive. The parent’s weren’t all incompetent."

Checks, which were once $1,000 a month, are now worth less than the postage it costs to send them.

"I have seen checks for 32 cents and 64 cents come in," Saupitty said.

The records and documents she has collected show that at a minimum $8 million is owed to the 100 or so people she is representing and that is before interest and penalties. With the wide scope of oil and gas leases on trust land on the Kiowa/Comanche/Apache tribal land, the actual amount owed in royalties is estimated to be staggering.

"The land owners were supposed to get 12 percent," Saupitty said. "But they are getting less than 1 percent of that 12 percent. The government and the oil companies are getting all the rest, including the 11 percent left that the land owners were supposed to receive."

As tax commissioner for the Apache tribe, Saupitty has used the same calculations as the government and the oil companies in coming to the $8 million figure, but her fight against the big oil companies is not being backed by all of the members of the business committee for the Apache tribe.

"Behind closed doors, the ones who own land tell me to keep fighting," she said. "But others are against it."

Saupitty believes in the traditional way in which tribal members looked out for one another. "Since the 1600s our people have looked out for one another, it has been making sure that your relatives and neighbors have enough to eat and are taken care of. But as we get younger tribal members coming into government positions we don’t see that anymore."

Armed with the help of one attorney and a strong sense of justice, Saupitty has turned into the Apache ‘Erin Brockovich’; a title she feels is very complementary.

"I only wish I had her phone number," Saupitty laughed. But the slight humor isn’t far from the truth. She has actually tried to find Brockovich’s phone number for assistance in the battle she is waging. What had once seemed to be simply a fight for money owed to tribal members is beginning to parallel the fight Brockovich fought because of the carelessness of an energy company in California.

All around Saupitty, cancers and cases of lupus are on the increase, a result she is working to prove was due to the carelessness of oil companies that forced oil out of the ground and let byproducts leech into water tables and flow down rivers and streams.

But Saupitty’s lone voice against the injustices her people have suffered has begun to appear to make the oil companies she is going after nervous. She has been told by those she trusts to "watch her back" and that she is up against people who will "do anything." She has even had a lawsuit filed against her as the tax commissioner for the tribe by the very companies she is fighting against.

Saupitty said she can see through the lawsuit, but finds it difficult to understand why only she and not the tribe are being sued. She believes it may have something to do with the foreclosure she is serving against the oil companies at the end of this month. But she is not afraid to continue her battle, the stakes are too high for her to stop now and a promise to her mother before she passed away, along with a strong sense of responsibility for her relatives and neighbors has kept her going.

"Before my mother died she told me to finish this," Saupitty said simply.

Next in the series, the duplicity and behind the door dealing of the oil companies and the government of Oklahoma that took the federal government out of the loop as Saupitty continues to pull her case together as she begins foreclosure proceedings against the oil companies. Emily Saupitty can be reached at (582) 588-2596.
This article can be found at http://IndianCountry.com/?1074268421

Smokin' Ace 02-13-2004 03:58 PM

Apache tribe’s ‘Erin Brockovich’ (Part Two)

Posted: January 23, 2004 - 3:24pm EST
by: Mary Pierpoint / Correspondent / Indian Country Today

(In an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today, Apache tribal member, Emily Saupitty talks about the duplicity and behind the door dealings of the oil companies and the government of Oklahoma and how they took the federal government out of the loop to maintain their hold on the rich gas and oil leases on Indian land.)

APACHE, Okla. - By the time Indian people were finally being recognized as citizens of the United States in 1924, oil companies were already circling Indian land like vultures for the rich fields of oil and gas that were beneath them. For many Apache tribal members and their neighbors who were barely surviving, the idea of making money from gas and oil royalties wasn’t a choice; it was a matter of survival. So they signed leases with oil companies believing that through those agreements they would be able to provide for their children and their children’s children. It worked for a while, but as the oil companies became more powerful, the 12 percent promised to the families began dwindling and now many receive less than 1 percent of the royalties once promised to them.

Many leases were on land allotted to children. Although their parents were living and able to negotiate the gas and oil leases, Indian agents usurped parental rights by using a policy that allowed them to sign for children in the event that their parents were unable to. In other cases adults, uneducated and trusting signed the leases, not realizing that once the papers were signed, they would not be able to go back and re-negotiate the terms of the lease.

"I get royalty owners coming into me and telling me that they go and check on their leases and they are told that their leases are perpetual," Saupitty said. "Some are given other reasons like they were signed for a 100 years, I mean just crazy things like this."

The State of Oklahoma then stepped in and set up a commission that bypassed the federal government’s role in protecting the rights of Indian people. "From the records that I have been reading and all the research I have been doing, I found that when the United States government got into this oil exploration, they at that time, found, that a lot of the lands like that here in Oklahoma had been opened up to non-Indians," she continued. "What they found was that there was an abundance of oil, but with technology being as limited as it was back then they really couldn’t tell how far it went or how much they had, but they could tell that there were minerals that they could utilize. Back, I believe the earliest that I was reading, was from 1924 and even back then they could see that there was an abundance in some areas of not only oil, but gas as well. In 1938, which is one of the earliest documents I have gotten from one of the royalty owners so far there could be more possibly further back that had the unitization plan in it."

The unitization plan Saupitty said, was developed by the state senate in Oklahoma

"This unitization plan says that they can invest the Indian’s money at a fair market value, at a higher market value on their behalf, utilizing their resources is what it says," she continued. "What they did was, the Oklahoma legislation that developed this utilization plan with all these conditions and put all these conditions and terms on behalf of the landowners, regardless of who they were. That in a way by steps the Secretary of Interior who had that trust responsibility of saying yes or no pertaining to the trust properties that were in the KCA reservation. What they did was develop a way so they can lease the properties in a unit form, the most abundant ones were the ones they put under this unitization agreement and what that plan did was allow the state corporation to more or less run the whole thing and say yes or no to any conditions of that. From what I see and interpret is they did this in a way in which the oil companies and the state would be benefiting under this more than the land owners would and in a way in which they wouldn’t have to go through the Secretary of the Interior, which is the BIA. So when they did this they allowed the oil companies to also be the operators. From what I read the BIA had certain conditions that the oil companies would have had to meet for them to come and utilize the trust owners resources. In the unitization plan they were supposed to bring the landowners up to a level of living that was comparable to their neighbors, but it didn’t happen that way. From the records I read, the oil companies went before the state corporation and got a license in order to do this kind of exploration and whatever else they wanted … the landowners had NO say so in this at all. These conditions were all set in place, legislation had passed it."

Some of the records Saupitty has make it sound, she said, as though the Indians didn’t know or understand the agreements. She disagrees, "I believe they did and to this day, especially with the Apache tribe, the tribal leaders who were in there did not agree to any of the conditions or terms that were set down by anything as far as the welfare of their people. It didn’t meet the requirements that would be in the best interest of not only their people, but the ones who were living around them."

With the state backing their actions the oil companies soon had carte blanche over leases and land owners rights. The power now being wielded over landowners by oil companies is what Saupitty considers to be abusive. With no real checks and balances landowners had no place to go to get the share of the 12 percent first promised to them. Using the same methods of calculation shown in the leases and by state and federal agencies Saupitty, tax commissioner and former tribal council member, has found that the amount owed to the landowners on the 640 acres is $800 million. "I used their formulas for calculating this and the $800 million is before interest and penalties," Saupitty said. "That is just for this small section, there are other land owners out there who are asking for my help now. This is just a small part of what has happened here in Oklahoma. The Secretary of the Department of the Interior is behind us on this now, they have told me I have their backing."

So on the 29th of January, Saupitty goes to court with a foreclosure against the oil companies she believes have been cheating her family and others for years. But for the Apache’s Erin Brockovich the battle is more than just getting back the money owed to the people who wanted only to ensure a future for their children. A battle against the same companies is getting ready to begin that may cost the same big oil companies more millions because of the environmental impact that is costing the lives of her relatives and neighbors.

(Next in the series, the cancer and lupus clusters that are claiming the lives of the ones who have been cheated out of their royalties are now finding that oil companies may be responsible because of their carelessness as they extracted the riches from their land. The poorest of the poor cannot even afford health care as the land on which they live, once promising, is now killing them.)
This article can be found at http://IndianCountry.com/?1075753747

All times are GMT -4. The time now is 11:41 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
Content Relevant URLs by vBSEO 3.6.1
Copyright 2006, PowWows.com, LLC