By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
After investigating the charges, the postal service eventually yanked the tribe's contract to run the post office in February of this year. Jim Murray, who oversees contracts for the postal service's San Bernardino office, says the post office was shut down because "we just had problems, contractual problems, a variety of things," but would not elaborate.
"Some of the problems are still under investigation, so I'd rather not get into specific things," he says. No charges have been filed against anyone involved with the post office.
After the 1990 election, the nine-member council consisted of Walker, two of her sisters, a daughter, a son-in-law, the son-in-law's uncle, two distant cousins and one outsider--Busena Escobar--who from then on was never told when and where the council would meet, says her son, Ron Escobar.
After gaining full control, tribal members say, Walker began her reign of terror.
Anyone who spoke out against her was placed on the "86" list and banned from using the restaurant, resort or tribal grocery store. "They were denying us our civil rights," says Ron Escobar, who was placed on the 86 list. "If you opposed Ms. Walker's administration in one way or another, you were put on some kind of list. A blackball list or an 86 list, an eviction list. There was always something going."
In some cases, Irene Kellywood says, the blacklist meant mothers had to drive more than 40 miles into Needles to buy formula for their babies or do without if they had no way to get to town.
The council also controlled about 70 jobs, which were prized by tribal members who had no other way to earn a living on the reservation. Walker purged her opponents from the payrolls, members say. Rusty Two Crows says he was fired from his job at the campground because he spoke openly about problems in Walker's administration.
Osley Saunooke, a Cherokee with more than a quarter-century in Indian affairs who was hired by Walker as an adviser, denies that Walker fired people or barred them from businesses for political reasons. Those who found their names on various lists deserved it, Saunooke says, because they were drunk, abusive or did not perform their jobs.
"They're just lying," Saunooke says. "They were wrong. Their arguments are without any foundation."
But minutes of tribal meetings found after the dissidents seized control of the tribal house contradict Saunooke's claims. "Robin Wood employed at Boathouse and was protesting against the Tribe," say the minutes of a January 10, 1992, meeting. "Richie said he told Martha to dismiss her."
"Anyone who opposed her and her council, especially those who were more vocal, were the ones she targeted the most," says Irene Kellywood, who was ousted as the tribe's secretary treasurer by Walker. "They were the ones who were harassed. They were terminated from their jobs."
In addition to the disciplinary actions, the Walker government retreated behind a veil of secrecy. Regular council meetings were closed to the tribe, and even the council house was shut off. Tribal members could not see their elected leaders without being granted an appointment.
Without explanation, things began to go awry. The ferry that carried people back and forth across the lake to Lake Havasu City broke and was never fixed. The community center, which had been built with a federal grant, was fenced off and left unused. An airport--really just a landing strip and some lights--also built with federal funds was completed but closed.
Money seemed to be going into the council house but not coming out, tribal members say. In 1991 the tribe received more than $40,000 in federal money for agricultural programs, for instance, yet there is not a cow, chicken or crop on the reservation.
Money was also coming in for a substance-abuse program and for a Head Start program, but they didn't exist, says Rusty Two Crows. Documents found after Walker's government fled suggest that the councilmembers may have doubled their salaries and paid themselves fees for managing the resort, although the facts are difficult to piece together because federal agents seized so many records, Kellywood says.
"They didn't let anybody outside their own little clique know what was going on," she says. "They shut tribal members out of their own tribal affairs. Things that they have every right to know about. They've completely shut the door on us. You can't even run for council, unless you were a member of her family."
Walker systematically stripped the tribe of its right to freely elect the council, Two Crows says. She placed her cohorts in all positions of authority on the reservation. Members who spoke out against her could lose their jobs and be banished from the tribal businesses. They could not even enter the council chambers to pay their utility bills.
Tribal businesses suffered, and services were cut. The tribe even stopped helping with funeral expenses when the elders, including those who had fought to revive the dormant reservation, died, Two Crows says.
Tribal members complained frequently to the BIA, notes Nick Alvarez, a member of the dissident council and son of a former tribal chairman, but the agency did not seem to take the allegations seriously.