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seminolewar


1976 Tampa Times articles on eastern Creek Indians, part 5

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The TampaTimes newspaper no longer exists, and the rolls of microfilm of their back issues were tossed in the dump, so it is almost impossible to find a copy of their paper from the past. Libraries do not even have it in their archive collection. I have reprinted the articles here, and recently came across another Xerox copy of the articles, so I am adding the photos.

The Tampa Times

October 20, 1976
Local Focus, Section E

Indian funds are sometimes misspent

Photo: Gary Rings/Tampa Times

Tampa Times photos_0006

At the powwow
A pert, colorfully clad young Pensacola girl cavorts at a festive Creek powwow, amid all of the western Indian trappings. Critics of the new Creek movement are not only angered at the adoption of non-Creek Indian customs, but at the way some Creek groups are spending federal funds.

Tampa Times photos_0007

Photo: Gary Rings/Tampa Times
Dancing to the drumbeat
The drums at a Pensacola powwow pound the beat to which young, feather-clad Creek descendants dance. While some Creeks refuse federal funds, which they say is bowing to commercialism, other Creek groups pursue the federal funding trail relentlessly. Some groups have misspend the money, officials claim.

The Creek Indians controlled a mighty empire in the southeastern United States until the white man came and the federal government moved them across the Mississippi River in the 1830s. A few Creeks hid and escaped exile, and now their descendants are re-forming into tribes and pursuing their ancestral culture after generations of “white” living. In the last of a three-part series, Times staff writer Jim Seale examines how federal funds to modern-day Creeks are being spent.

By Jim Seale
Times Staff Writer

The new eastern Creek Indian movement has brought the Southeast a lot of festive weekend powwow dancing, a new awareness of Creek Indians’ role in American history and personal fulfillment to modern day Creek descendants.

But red-faced federal officials admit it has also been the subject of misspending of federal funds, plus outright fraud.

Creek descendants in the Southeast have been proclaiming their heritage for the first time, forming tribes and cashing in on the increasing amount of federal aid available to non-reservation Indians.

In the case of a $60,000 federal grant awarded to an “Indian” group in Eastpoint, and a belated federal survey revealed the recipients were not Indians.

For another $86,000 grant to a Cairo, Ga., Creek group last year, part of which funded arts and crafts classes in Pensacola the program director said money from arts and crafts sale went into a private fund.

“It seems we were taken in. The people in that program were not really Indian,” said Hakim Kahn, a federal official overseeing the $60,000 Eastpoint grant.

“The whole thing was kind of embarrassing to my boss,” said Khan, who journeyed to the tiny gulf coast fishing community in the program’s last weeks to see its results.

Khan’s survey came to light after a Tampa Times reporter investigated complaints of Eastpoint’s Creek descendants, who said they were not included in the program.

Mrs. Opel McMillan, who received and administered the grant, said she had destroyed all program records when a Times reporter asked to see them. Contacted earlier, her husband Howard said the records were in their home.

“When I told her (Mrs. McMillan) I’d come down to check on her program she got kind of touchy,” Kahn recalls. “All she wanted to know was whether she would get her funding next year.”

“This program was kind of a new thing for us and everything was hurried. Now we are more knowledgeable about the Indians,” Khan said. “This is just the one case that slipped by.”

Mrs. McMillan insists Khan is mistaken, and that those in her handicraft, carpentry, welding and crocheting classes were Indian even though they didn’t have the documents to prove it.

Sun-wizened old Ed Evans, chief of the Creek descendants in economically-depressed Eastpoint, said, “She wouldn’t talk to nobody about the money she got.”

“Those who really need that Indian money don’t get it,” said Evans, sitting in the squalid, trash-littered yard outside the two ram-shackle trailers he and his wife call home.

Billy Granger, a non-Indian neighbor of Evans, said he was paid under Mrs. McMillan’s program to teach carpentry to several young boys for several weeks—even though Khan said federal guidelines intended the program for Indian adults.

On one occasion he supervised the boys during class time while they built a structure a man paid him to construct, Granger said. Granger said he couldn’t remember how much he was paid under the program, but he said his classes only lasted a few weeks.

“I don’t think my classes were too successful. The boys didn’t take it seriously enough,” Granger said.
Money from the sale of arts and crafts made under a federal program went into the private tribal fund of Pensacola clan chief Wesley Thomley, said Peggy McCormmick, a Cairo Creek leader who administered the program.

Because the action violated federal rules, the Cairo group headed by Neal and Peggy McCormick was assessed $5,000 by United Southeastern Tribes (USET), a Nashville-based agency that distributed the $86,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Pensacola youths who attended the classes in the summer of 1975 said they were told by the program’s administrators that the crafts they made would be put into a museum.

But they complained that they saw their work being sold months later at arts and crafts shows in the Pensacola area, with the items advertised as the work of the clan of Thomley—whose wife helped run the Pensacola classes for Mrs. McCormick.

Mrs. Thomley and Mrs. Linton, who taught the classes for several weeks, acknowledged the handicrafts were sold but both said the revenue was put back into the program.

Thomley heads one of five warring Creek clans in Pensacola, and is an ally of McCormick, whose claim of chief of all Creeks east of the Mississippi is disputed by many Pensacola Creeks.

USET official Bobby Crooks, who monitored the McCormicks’ program, said Mrs. McCormick “did her best to screw USET out of whatever she could.”

There was suspicion of their program when our officer came down there to do a mini-audit. He said we should further explore it because there were questionable costs,” Crooks said.

Crooks also said the McCormicks had no authority to distribute funds to Pensacola and Tallahassee, where arts and crafts classes were held.

The McCormicks will probably get no more funds through USET because of the incident.

The department of labor in August began investigating the grant “probably” because of the Tampa Times investigation, Crooks said.

“He is a big, black, nigger-looking liar,” said the fiery Mrs. McCormick from her wood paneled Cairo office, when asked about Crooks’ comments.

“The money that came from the crafts sale is none of Bobby Crooks’ business. We had every right to sell those crafts,” said Mrs. McCormick, who acknowledged paying back about $5,000 to USET, but said she admitted no wrongdoing by the payment.

When a Tampa Times reporter asked to see the program records, Mrs. McCormick said she didn’t have time to go through them all.

USET is responsible for any funds misspend under the grant, said Sandy McNabb, of the office of Indian and native American programs which supplied the McCormick’s grant.

“We’ll do an audit of the program, but information we have shows about 50 per cent of the costs were disallowed costs under the guidelines,” Bob Columbo, who works under McNabb, said.

Pensacola Creek leaders complain that a grant for a $75,000 Indian manpower program, being run by a Thomley clan member, is not being spent impartially.

The grant is being used to put 18 youths of Indian descent through vocational rehabilitation, said Ann Pate of private, non-profit Community Action Program Committee, Inc. of Pensacola—which is in charge of the program.

But leaders of clans opposed to Thomley say Mrs. Pate, a member of Thomley’s Lower Muskogee group, is discriminating against members of other clans in accepting program clients.

“This is a completely illegitimate program,” said W. V. Williams, chief of the Coweta clan.

Mrs. Pate refused to release the names of 18 people in the program, but said none of them were members of Thomley’s clan.

The federal freedom of information act mandates that such names be public information, said McNabb, whose office awarded the grant. “Those names are public information, but there’s no specific penalty” for violating the act, McNabb said.

State and federal officials controlling the purse strings to Indian money, said Creek groups east of the Mississippi present a special dilemma to them when it comes to choosing which Creek group will administer funds locally.

Even though many eastern Creeks are very Caucasian-looking, most of the more than 30 federal agencies dispensing Indian programs don’t require proof of ancestry—which officials admit leaves the programs open to white infiltration.

Another problem is discriminating between the often competing claims of Creek groups, some of which are new, unstable organizations, officials say.

“In the past, these programs have been lax. But they (federal agencies) don’t give you any restrictions to work with,” said Jan Tuveson of Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs, which decides which Creek groups to award grants too. “Fortunately, we don’t have much money so no one can rip us off too much.”

Because there is no clearing-house for the Indian grants given out by more than 30 separate federal offices, there’s no guarantee that Creek groups deservedly cut off by one federal office won’t shop around and get funding from another, McNabb said.

McNabb, whose office awards manpower grants to scores of Indian tribes on and off reservations, said Creeks are no more disorganized than other non-reservation groups.

But a “bleeding-heart press,” along with the rest of American society suffering with newly realized guilt over America’s crimes against Indians, contributes to some of the Indian flimflam, one part-Indian federal offical said.

“As a result, the white man puts the money on the stump and just goes,” he said.

The official recalls the case of a fly-by-night tribe whose manpower grant was withdrawn.

“What a nightmare. We gave them a grant for a manpower program, but they decided they wanted to start a restaurant with it instead and spent $50,000 on that before we stopped them.”

After the agency called a halt to the shenanigans, the local newspaper related an Indian tale of woe with a banner headline: “Another Treaty Broken.”
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