Discrepancies haunt Indian plate fund


Questions of transparency continue to haunt the Indiana

Native American Trust, the holding account for the money collected on behalf of

the state's Native American community through the sale of "Land of the

Indians" specialty license plates.

The state operates on $28.3 billion budget and no officials

appeared to be concerned when asked why a $3,500 discrepancy exists between the

sales numbers reported by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the fund total

tracked by Indiana State Auditor Tim Berry's office.

Still, to advocates of the state's Native Americans, the

lack of accountability is seen as yet another insult by the state, which has

yet to name replacements to the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs

Commission after a mass walkout by five Native American commission members in 2008 deactivated the commission.

A tangled web of


The BMV reports sales of 2,246 Land of the Indians plates

since June 30, 2011 (though in its first response to a request for these

numbers, the agency reported sales of 1,886 plates from Aug. 1, 2011 - June 25,

2012, and listed the end of June 2012 trust fund balance at $150,685, which

wouldn't account for any of the year's sales).

If each plate adds $25 to the trust, the year's sales of

2,246 plates should have added $56,150 to the fund for a total of $206,835.

But the auditor's office reported only $52,675 deposited

since June 30, 2011 through June 30, 2012, leaving a balance of $203,360.

If an easy explanation exists for the funding lag, state

officials with the BMV, the treasurer's office, the State Board of Accounts and

the auditor's office failed to offer it. It could be as simple as June sales

had yet to be transferred, but the person who could confirm that remains

elusive to those answering for the BMV.

To reconcile the account to the dollar, the auditor's office

would have to know details such as if the BMV had money in the bank that had

yet to be transferred, said Dan Bastin, the state

auditor's office settlement director.

But his office is not charged with digging up such details,

it simply checks to make sure that the money deposited by the BMV into the

state account managed by the treasurer matches the total recorded on the state's

ledger for the account. From this respect, Bastin

sees no discrepancies.

The state treasurer's office is the custodian for all

state-managed cash, including investments. Indiana


instructs the treasurer to invest all unobligated funds in the Indian's

trust account. The current fund total reflects no interest earnings, indicating

another possible failure to act in the best interests of the Native community

in that it appears cash available for investment is languishing unattended.

Though by name the auditor's office would seem the likely

entity to issue audit reports, the State

Board of Accounts

is actually the entity charged with auditing the state's

various funds and entities. The BMV is regularly audited and regulators have

not raised any red flags with regard to BMV business, though it does not appear

they have paid any special attention to the Native American Trust. Likewise,

the Treasurer's Office has not complained about the flow of funds from the BMV

into the account.

The final accounting of state money is summarized each year

in Indiana's

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report

. The

last complete report, which captures 2011 finances, does not mention the Native

American Trust.

A commission could


The Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission is

responsible for distributing the funds from the sale of Land of the Indian

specialty license plates.

The commission took on the responsibility of overseeing the

license plate trust fund in 2008 when proceeds from the plates were diverted

from Historic Prophetstown after the Tippecanoe County site changed its focus

from native peoples to historic farming.

According to state law, funds from the trust can be used for any lawful

purpose the commission chooses. But the commission, established in 2005, has

been effectually disbanded since June 2008, when five of the Native American

commissioners resigned, citing issues with Gov. Mitch Daniels' administration,

ranging from failure to fill all the positions on the commission, which left

the group gridlocked and ineffective, to broken promises and lack of

administrative support.

With no commission in place to manage the trust fund, Debra Haza, an Indiana resident and a member of the federally

recognized Odawa tribe located in Michigan, hopes for outside accountability.

More importantly, she hopes for a new commission. "We want Governor

Daniels to reseat the commission because they're selling the plate on our

behalf, but we haven't been able to use the funding for the last three years."

She said she has seen no effort to reseat the commission

despite the interest of numerous qualified applicants.

Kokomo resident Sally Tuttle, a member of the federally

recognized Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and founder of Native Voices of Indiana

(NAIVOI), said she is most concerned about the issue of representation.

"We still have no voice," Tuttle said. "We

have a law, but no voice. All I ask is for an equal seat at the table."

Until Daniels or his successor take action, the state's

Native Americans remain without the commission created on their behalf and

unable to distribute the money collected to bolster their community.

Meanwhile, a bill passed last session aimed in part to

consolidate oversight of boards and commissions transferred the commission's

administrative support — along with the Indiana Commission for Women, the

Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs and the Commission on the Social Status

of Black Males — to the Indiana

Civil Rights Commission


The CRC's role is limited to tasks

such as setting up a website, publishing meeting minutes and organizing files

and office space.

"We can only do what the statute allows us to do,"

CRC Director Jamal Smith said. "Given the opportunity, we would be happy

to have a conversation with the Governor and help seat it, but it's at his


In June, the state House of Representatives renewed the June

2011 appointment of Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, to the commission. The

Senate appointed Sen. John Waterman, R-Shelburn, who

sponsored the original bill creating the commission. Waterman declined to

comment on his appointment or the commission.

Leonard said he sought the appointment because of his

interest in Native American history. He wants to see the commission vacancies

filled and hopes "to open up communication between the administration and

the commission." But he doesn't know if his appointment signals that the

governor plans to fill the vacancies on the commission.

"We have filled our appointment like we are supposed

to," Leonard said. "You will have to ask the governor's office [when

he will fill the commission vacancies]."

Jane Jankowski , the governor's

spokeswoman, repeated a long-standing line: The governor does "not have a

timetable for new appointments to the commission."

Meanwhile, as sales of the specialty plates continue, money

accumulates that cannot be managed or spent by the people it was intended to



Recommended for you