The Crow Nation has reissued its monthly elder checks after banks declined to cash the first ones. The tribe says a clerical error caused the mishap that inconvenienced elders right before the holidays.
Bryan "Buddy" Rogers is in his room at the Crow nursing home Awe Kualawaache watching an old Hardin High School basketball game on YouTube. He says Hardin wins this one.
He's watched it before because one of his 24 grandkids is on the court. He used his elder check to buy his grandkids Christmas presents.
Every month, the tribe prints about 900 checks for tribal members 67 and above, each for $300.
This month, the tribe reissued all of its December elder checks just days before Christmas. Two tribal employees worked full eight-hour days to issue new checks within 24-hours. Banks refused some of the first ones because they contained the wrong routing number, according to an executive branch official.
Karl Little Owl, the tribal Chief Operating Officer and head of finance, says his family was frustrated by the December mixup, too.
"Of course, they’re going to be calling me first thing saying what the heck is going on here," he said. "We want our checks. We need them. Christmas right there. We have bills to pay. They’re upset with me, I’m upset as well. But what can you do?"
The money comes from interest on a federal settlement. Two decades ago, the U.S government paid the tribe $85 million after it improperly drew a Crow Reservation boundary over a hundred years ago.
Little Owl says only about a quarter of the December checks had the wrong routing number but the tribe reprinted them all anyway. He calls it a clerical issue and says its a poor example of how the executive branch normally operates.
He points out that the tribe issued a lot of checks that day that banks did process.
"I mean the same day, we issued payroll," Little Owl said. "We issued payroll to the legislative branch. We issued payroll to the judicial branch. We issued pay to the executive branch."
He says that in the future he doesn’t want to print that many checks at once since doing so increases the risk of mistakes.
Some Crow legislators and tribal members say elder payments have become increasingly irregular in recent years. The checks are supposed to be available on the first of the month but sometimes aren’t because the tribe has competing financial obligations around then, like loan payments, according to a tribal finance employee.
Buddy Rogers at the nursing home says he returned the initial check after his Facebook blew up with comments about banks refusing to cash the elder checks
"Everybody was screaming and hollering but I appreciate that we got an elderly check," Rogers said.
When the Crow Tribe posted on Facebook that it would reissue checks, commenters wrote things like, “Good grief the elders need their money,” and “Terrible way to treat us elders.”
But Rogers says he’s grateful for the checks because he has a spinal injury that prevents him from working. Social security and the elder payments are his only income.
"I don’t care how long it takes," Rogers said. "If they can give it to me the 30th or the 31st of each month, I wouldn’t mind. Just so I get it that month."
A spokesperson for the tribe says that Tribal Chairman AJ Not Afraid is working to create a new department that will handle elder payments.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.