The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has recognized the newly-elected Meskwaki Tribal Council, a milestone in the long-running leadership dispute on the settlement. Tom Jochum — a spokesman for the tribal council headed by Homer Bear, Junior — says it’s what the group’s been working toward for the past eight months.Jochum says the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognition “legitimizes” the Homer Bear Council and gives the tribe an opportunity to move forward. Jochum says members of the tribe have recognized Homer Bear as their leader since an election in May. That election wasn’t recognized by federal officials, so a second round of voting was held in October. Now that the feds have put their stamp of approval on the fall election, Jochum says the tribe can “get back to business” and that means reopening the tribe’s casino near Tama that’s been closed since May. Jochum says it’s also time for a full accounting of the spending decisions made by the rival tribal council headed by Alex Walker, Junior.At one point, the Alex Walker Tribal Council hired a Wisconsin security firm to break into the closed casino to seize financial records. Jochum says “a lot of money was spent trying to subvert the will of the tribe,” and he says “there’s going to have to be an accounting for some of the things that were done.” Iowa’s two U.S. Senators had been involved, behind the scenes, trying to get the Bureau of Indian Affairs to settle the dispute. Senator Charles Grassley say the Bureau’s ruling “removes the last remaining obstacle before the casino can be reopened” and he expects the National Indian Gaming Commission to lift the closure of the casino at anytime. Grassley says that’d be an “early Christmas present” for the nearly 13-hundred people who want to get back to work at the casino. Senator Tom Harkin says the Bureau’s decision should restore “economic stability to tribal members” and those who work at the casino. And Harkin praised the Tribal Council for deciding to put many workers back on the casino payroll even before the facility re-opens.
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