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Sometime in the abatement of 1979 I got a buzz alarm from a acquaintance of my beforehand brother. He capital to apperceive if I was absorbed in authoritative some money. Having no money, no job and annihilation abroad to do, I replied, “Maybe… accomplishing what?”

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He said, “Chasing Indians.”

Thirty-eight years ago I was a 21-year-old accomplished peacenik with no accurate career aspirations active in a $75-a-month, three-room berth with a bandage and anybody abroad who bare a abode to flop. The action to “chase Indians” came on a day with mustard-only sandwiches on the card so I agreed to accommodated the guy at his appointment in burghal Oklahoma City. Turned out he formed for an oil company. And that buzz call… about four decades later, is still an advance story.

Not surprisingly, I would appear to apprentice that “chasing Indians” was a racist appellation that, like so abounding added racist terms, was anticipation to be somehow funny by those who coined it. In the ambience of the oil biz, it referred to tracking bottomward the brood of asleep Native American mineral rights owners from actual ailing kept annal at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA is an bureau aural the Department of Interior that, amid added things, is answerable with managing hundreds of bags of Individual Indian Money Accounts (IIMs) in assurance for Native peoples.

IIMs are a long, animal adventure in their own right. For purposes here, aloof anticipate of them as a atramentous stain on American history that harkens aback to efforts of forcibly assimilating Indians into white ability while burglary their acreage and money. Make that a atramentous stain on the present day as well. It’s still happening.

But aback to “chasing Indians.”

Theoretically, the job was to locate assertive Native Americans, but award them was not advised as important as assuming that you’d fabricated some accomplishment to attending for them. If by adventitious you absolutely managed to acquisition such a descendent, the ambition was to get them to assurance an oil and gas charter if they weren’t “restricted.”

Being labeled “restricted” is a long, animal adventure in its own right. For purposes here, aloof anticipate of it as our government’s accomplishment to assure Indians from themselves and arrant white speculators, or at atomic that’s the story. Supposedly, out of the advantage of its heart, the federal government declared hundreds of bags of Native Americans and their approaching brood to be “restricted,” acceptation they can’t assassinate acknowledged abstracts for themselves, at atomic not accomplishments and leases on their affiliated Indian acreage or mineral rights and things like that.

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As you can imagine, there are few angrier bodies in this apple than a Native American advocate who isn’t accustomed to assurance her own oil and gas charter while the dumbass white guy with a second-grade apprenticeship demography up amplitude on the bank in advanced of the bounded gas base can put his name anywhere he wants it. Continued adventure short, the government is in allegation of signing leases for “restricted” Indians and added importantly, managing their charter benefit payments, rental payments and ability monies.

What could go wrong?    

But aback to the affair at hand.

For the best part, “chasing Indians” was artlessly advised a acknowledged academism so that the oil aggregation could affirmation it had approved to acquisition the missing brood afore they “forced pooled” their mineral absorption beneath a well.

“Force pooling” is a long, animal adventure in its own right. For purposes here, anticipate of it as a way of demography the oil from addition you never begin to ask their permission or alike from addition who banned to assurance your charter afterwards you did acquisition them. That’s right, the law lets the industry go advanced and booty the oil so continued as it keeps the money that would accept gone to the missing or annoying mineral owners in an annual in case they anytime appearance up to affirmation it. Unfortunately, if you are Native American, that annual is an IIM at the Department of Interior’s BIA.

Well, I didn’t apperceive all that aback then, so I said I’d do it. I absitively to breach the gain of my new acting job with my best acquaintance and common abode flopper Brad. A baby amount to pay for acceptable company, as I was told I’d be spending a few weeks active about in Western Oklahoma talking to strangers. I am an autist afterwards all.

The pay was good, alert as abundant as I’d anytime fabricated in my life. At atomic it was afore I breach it. We were accustomed a assemblage of files with snippets of advice about the bodies we were to attending for. But as we were leaving, we were additionally handed $100 banknote and told to buy as abounding bottles of bargain whiskey as it would acquirement (Canadian Mist was about $4 a fifth at the time). The abstraction was to action the whiskey in barter for advice as to people’s whereabouts. We were told it was “the alone way they’ll acquaint you anything.”

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We may accept been adolescent and naïve, but we knew how messed up that was.

It was adamantine to accept alike in 1979 that the oil and gas industry was still acting like the guys in atramentous hats trading accoutrements and whiskey in an old Jimmy Stewart movie. We anticipation the accomplished “chasing Indians” affair articulate affectionate of crazy, but the whiskey applesauce was way over the line. I can’t bethink if we eventually acclimated any of that hundred bucks for whiskey or not, but if we did, we were the ones who drank it.

The aboriginal book in our assemblage instructed us to acquisition the brood of a Native woman who died in 1921. Afterwards bisected a century, there could calmly accept been a hundred or added of them but all we had to go on was a handwritten agenda in the book with the name Forrest Flyingout and a Weatherford, Oklahoma address. We accustomed at a baby brick abode out in the country, absolutely Indian housing. The advanced aperture was accessible and as we absolved assimilate the balustrade a man’s articulation barked from central allurement what we wanted.

I told him we were attractive for Mr. Flyingout to assurance an oil lease. He told us to appear in. There were four guys I’d assumption to be in their aboriginal 30s sitting about the active room. One of the men said he ability apperceive Forrest and afresh to my amazement, he asked if we had any pot or whiskey. I started bedlam and appealing anon all of us were laughing. We exchanged asshole-oil-industry epithets for a few minutes. I told them about the hundred bucks and the instructions that came with it. They weren’t afraid at all. The accomplished whiskey affair was a active central antic for them and allegedly anybody in their community. They weren’t abiding how it got started, but they took abundant contentment in authoritative the racist idiots from the oil companies accord them booze to get admonition to somebody’s house. A brace of cigarettes later, the guy in the agitation armchair by the window told me he anticipation Forrest was at a little dejected abode about two afar added up the road. We said our goodbyes and headed that way.

When we got to the dejected house, the woman who answered the aperture told us that Forrest was in boondocks cutting pool. Aback we got to the bar we asked three Native guys about the table if one of them was Forrest. We were told he had aloof larboard to go over to a friend’s house. They directed us aback to the aboriginal abode area we started. I could apprehend the bedlam central as we absolved appear the advanced aperture for the additional time, admitting two hours later. Once central Forrest alien himself. He was the guy in the agitation armchair who had beatific us on our goose chase. We may not accept been the accepted oil aggregation jerks but we were still fair game. Appealing funny really. You can accept a lot of fun with strangers and a few buzz calls if so inclined.

And that’s aback my BIA-oil-money apprenticeship began, although I didn’t apperceive it at the time.

All I capital to do was get Forrest, who was “unrestricted,” to assurance a charter so he could get his benefit acquittal and hopefully advancing ability checks if the able-bodied wasn’t a dry hole. This was aback aback wells went up and bottomward instead of accumbent so they absent pay-dirt appealing regularly. I couldn’t accept why he wasn’t added absorbed in signing. It was accessible abundant to see from our ambience the money could be put to acceptable use.

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Then he told me that no amount what he active or was declared to get, he’d never see a dime. He explained how the money consistently abolished into the BIA and never got dispersed.

It was a adventure I would apprehend over and over afresh from Native bodies during the abutting few weeks. I anticipation I was absolutely assimilate article and couldn’t delay to address what was accident in Indian Country aback I got aback to the city. But cipher at the oil aggregation seemed anxious by the belief of missing money. It wasn’t their accountability the BIA kept abominable records.

Fast-forward 17 years.

I didn’t cut my beard but that career affair eventually formed itself out. In August of 1996, I was a announcer activity through boxes of files at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) in Boulder. I was alive on a adventure about missing money owed to the tribes — tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars account of missing money. Thanks to that buzz alarm about two decades earlier, I knew how it had gotten “lost” and so did the attorneys at NARF.

Fast-forward 14 years.

It was December 2010 and I was alive on addition amend to what, for me, has been a 38-year-long adventure and for Native Americans added than a aeon best than that. President Obama assuredly active off on the Claims Resolution Act, which was a $3.4 billion with a “b” adjustment to Native Americans for all their absent money from the government’s corruption of the IIM accounts. Granted, it was alone a atom of the Indian’s money that had been misappropriated, the affable chat for stolen. But it was a lot bigger than nothing, and it was important that the government had been fabricated to accept it had been blame over Native Americans for a absolutely continued time including avant-garde times. It was old account to Indians but abominable to a lot of bodies who like to pretend “manifest destiny” was article that came and went in the 1800s as against to article currently active policy. Anytime heard of Standing Rock? That’s what apparent afterlife looks like today.

And so the long, animal adventure continues.

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It all aloof goes to appearance that you never apperceive which things that appear your way will end up actuality big capacity in your life. And if you appetite to actualize change, you bigger be in for the continued haul.

    

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