Chairman Ken Blatt St. Marks of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation (the Tribe) received federal whistleblower status under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) Section 1553(a). Hillary Tompkins, Solicitor for the Department of the Interior, determined there was a sufficient basis to conclude that the Tribe had subjected St. Marks to unlawful reprisals after he reported widespread corruption within the Tribe.
St. Marks was elected to serve as the Chairman of the Tribe in 2012. Once elected, St. Marks requested reports of the Tribe’s income and expenditures in an attempt to bring transparency to government operations. Though he was given some information, he was denied access to certain records. In particular, St. Marks was concerned over the financial records relating to the Bureau of Reclamation North Central Montana Regional Water System Project. In attempting to reconcile the information he was given about the project with the Project’s bank account, St. Marks learned that funds were missing from the accounts. Unable to get an adequate explanation of the missing funds from the Tribe’s Business Committee and staff, he continued to investigate. He later followed up with an open letter to the Tribe’s membership announcing his cooperation with federal agencies investigating the misuse of Reinvestment Act and non-Reinvestment Act funds. He also requested whistleblower protection from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who forwarded that request to the Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The investigation unearthed widespread corruption within the Tribe and led to several federal indictments and convictions. Because of his whistleblowing activities St. Marks became subject to innumerable personal, professional, and business attacks. He was removed as Chairman, briefly jailed by the Tribe, and individually prohibited him from running for office. St. Marks then spent the next several years litigating in different courts so that he could run for office, serve as the elected Chairman, and maintain his personal freedom.
If a person believes they have been subjected to a reprisal prohibited by ARRA, such person may submit a complaint to the OIG of the relevant agency, who is then required to “determine whether there is sufficient basis to conclude that the non-Federal employer has subjected the complainant to a reprisal [that is] prohibited.” OnDecember 19, 2014, Solicitor Hillary Tompkins made an administrative determination that St. Marks had indeed been the target of prohibited reprisals by the Tribe.
Responding to the news about the determination, St. Marks noted how hard this journey has been:
“In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have imagined that serving as the Tribe’s Chairman and attempting to discern what happened to the Tribe’s finances, would have led me down such a winding road. It sure seemed like my civil rights were gone and no remedy in sight. My wife encouraged me to have faith, though. Now that we’ve seen many of the corrupt jailed, I believe the house of cards these corrupt officials built has fallen.”