Too Many Chiefs

The only center Dallas has to help Native Americans is mired in ineptitude and tribal politics

Tydlaska himself has resigned once, come back, given notice, and withdrawn it again. "I didn't want to be blamed for the audits not being done," he says. "There is too much chaos there."

Tydlaska has decided to stay, at least for a while, because he feels some loyalty toward the center. The DIC helped pay for his accounting degree, and he wants to repay it for the education.

More selfishly, he's worried about leaving and risking negative job references. "I felt that if I quit, I would damage myself because I want to get my MBA, and this experience will enhance my qualifications for entry into a top university," he says.

The center's former executive director, Biermann, says she quit because she felt her professional reputation was being jeopardized. Biermann believes DIC is on the brink of collapse, and she's only willing to take part of the blame for the problems.

"I've probably, on occasion, screwed up on some things. If I have, it's been unknowingly, or it has been because I've had eight balls up in the air," she says.

Biermann's biggest problem, she says, was trying to work with a governing board that can't get its act together.

Like many nonprofits, the Dallas Inter-tribal Center often has to cast about for people to serve on its board of directors. The center's board members aren't paid, although they can be reimbursed for expenses.

"I think that if you look at a lot of nonprofit boards, you will find that many of them have problems with their boards, because frequently people don't understand the time commitments that are required to be actively serving on a board of this type," says Peters, one of the DIC's attorneys.

But the DIC board also operates with some handicaps of its own making. Board members are elected by registered Native Americans who live in the DIC's 11-county service area. The seats rotate, with at least four positions coming up for election each year.

In 1995, the board voted to increase its size from nine to thirteen members. No one is sure why, since it was already hard enough to keep nine members interested. The larger board increased to seven the number of members who must be present to constitute a quorum, allowing the board to conduct its business legally.

But getting a quorum has always proved tricky. Paul Shunatona, who served on the DIC board in 1992, says that it was mighty frustrating, and that he often wasted hours traveling to DIC for board meetings that were canceled because not enough members showed up.

After enlarging the board, DIC officials decided they would compensate by simply changing their rules on what constituted a quorum. At some point--it is impossible to tell when from the board's sporadic records of its meetings--it was decided that only five members were needed for a quorum instead of seven. The rationale, Peters says, was that all 13 board seats were never full anyway.

As a result, the DIC board has been meeting, hiring people, firing people, and authorizing money to be spent without satisfying the legal requirements for a quorum.

No one is certain how many years the board may have been operating illegally. "In the last five years, I don't think there's ever been a full board," says former member Frank McLemore.

The center's bylaws allow oft-absent members to be booted from their seats, but that apparently has never been done. "These folks who are not here consistently, we need to kick them off and try to get out to the community and get some members," former board member Roy Carlisle told a recent meeting of the board.

Each year, four seats on the board are supposed to come up for election. But most often, nobody runs, and board members are simply appointed to new seats, leaving their old ones vacant. "Sometimes the board would vote to extend people's terms without re-election," Peters says. "I'm not seeking to indict anybody or make any big issues out of some evil intent. What we have is maybe people trying to do the best they could do under some trying circumstances, but making some mistakes that need to be corrected if possible."

Ultimately, former member Jackson says, the board became its own worst enemy. "We let personalities get into the way. When we did that amongst ourselves, it handicapped us, because we couldn't do the work we were supposed to do," he says.

Recently, board meetings have degenerated into horrific parodies of the democratic process. Board members whisper and giggle among themselves. Outraged community members scream in protest. "Communication is the key to relations," Michelle North told the board at its May meeting. "It is apparent we have very little communication here with community feedback. Ya'll are telling us what you want us to hear or what you choose to tell us."

One result of the board's chronic inability to keep its house in order is that member Gilbert Oakes is now serving his third consecutive term as treasurer, even though the center's bylaws clearly allow no more than two consecutive terms.

Former board members say they never had any idea what was going on with the center's budget. Oakes seldom made treasurer reports, and missing documents seemed to be par for the course. (Oakes declined to be interviewed by the Dallas Observer.)

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THE DALLAS INTER-TRIBAL CENTER was started by one person Bernice Johnson. Who saw that their was need for the Native American who lived in the Dallas Metro area. Please give credit where credit is deserve. Thank you.