ANADARKO — A judge with the Court of Indian Offenses has issued a preliminary injunction barring the Kiowa Tribe from spending its CARES Act funds. In an order received Tuesday by the court clerk’s office, Chief Magistrate Shannon Edwards sided with the seven members of the Kiowa Tribe’s legislature and ruled that Chairman Matthew Komalty cannot spend any additional CARES Act money until a budget is approved by the Kiowa Indian Council, which is open to all adult tribal citizens.
As adopted in 2017, the tribe’s constitution includes language that all revenue sources are part of the tribe’s budget and that the budget – or any changes to it -- must be approved by Kiowa voters. “The constitution is very clear that both the legislature and the KIC have a role to play in establishing the annual budget of the tribe and any modifications thereto,” Edwards wrote. “Such is the case even if the KIC is only afforded an ‘up or down’ vote of a budget proposal submitted by the chairman or legislature.”
Citing the possibility of the Kiowa Indian Council requesting the order being dissolved after approving a budget, Edwards declined to make the injunction permanent in Tuesday’s order.
The tribe received more than $19 million in federal relief funds, which the executive branch categorized as grant money. In late May, the executive branch formally rolled out a relief plan for the money that required Kiowa citizens to complete a needs assessment before receiving funds to cover COVID-related expenses under specific categories, such utilities, groceries, housing, distance-learning or fleeing a domestic violence situation.
However, several members of the Kiowa Legislature balked at the proposal, wanting instead to issue $1,000 checks to all of the tribe’s roughly 14,000 citizens.
Under guidance issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of the Interior, tribes are allowed to use CARES Act money to provide direct cash assistance to their citizens. However, those funds have to be disbursed based on documented need that falls within specific guidelines. Per capita checks are not allowed.
As a footnote in her ruling, Edwards reiterated that guidance and encouraged tribal officials to seek out additional legal advice on how to provide assistance across the board while staying within the parameters laid out by the federal government.
A spokeswoman for the Kiowa Tribe confirmed Tuesday evening that the tribe was still hosting an event for Tulsa area elders Tuesday and Wednesday night to help them fill out their assistance applications.
However, several elders who arrived at the midtown Tulsa venue Tuesday at the posted time were greeted with a locked door and no tribal employees in sight.
Attempts to reach Chairman Komalty for comment on deadline were unsuccessful. A Tuesday night post to the tribe’s official Facebook page indicated that the executive branch will be appealing the injunction.
On top of the injunction order, an impeachment hearing for Komalty is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in Red Buffalo Hall at the tribe’s complex in Carnegie. Originally scheduled for July 23, the hearing was postponed due to a potential COVID-19 exposure.
Citing five allegations of violating the constitution – including how the CARES Act money was distributed - the legislators voted unanimously last month to bring impeachment charges forward. A separate recall petition is also circulating, which requires 1,500 signatures to call a special meeting of the Kiowa Indian Council.