‘Opaque’ finances at Chemawa Indian School under scrutiny

Oregon

Merkley and Wyden seek investigation into Chemawa Indian School

Chemawa Indian School sign 05172019_1558134135442.jpg.jpg

Chemawa Indian School (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Following continued claims of alleged financial misconduct against the state’s last remaining federally-run boarding school for Native American students, Senators Wyden and Merkley have called on the Inspector General to investigate the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon.

In a co-signed letter to Mark Lee Greenblatt on Oct. 25, the lawmakers asked for transparency.

“This is a letter of an ongoing inquiry that we have conducted for years because we are so dissatisfied,” said Merkley. “We’re dissatisfied with the financial practices of the school, the failure to have transparency in their accounting, and a complete vacuum in terms of the role of the school board in providing true leadership.”

According to the letter, claims alleging the school’s financial mismanagement of funds date back to 2015.

The senators cited a review by the Office of Inspector General for the US Department of the Interior in July 2015, which determined that the Chemawa Indian School was “not properly assessing the academic needs of its students,” and was “unable to effectively prioritize its resources to ensure the successful educational achievement of its student population.”

Since the 2015 report, lawmakers claim they have not yet received a financial data from the school, despite multiple requests.

In an interview with KOIN 6 News Merkley stated, “We’re not convinced that our Native American children at the school are getting the opportunity that they fully deserve, and we can do better.”

Most of the alleged claims outlined in the letter center around concerns that money meant for student programs have been mismanaged.

When asked about the alleged claims Merkley stated, “While I can’t go into specifics, they all fall under the general category that funds have been misspent in many ways and have not been put into the programs that the school is supposed to be providing for the children,” Merkley continued. “And that is just unacceptable.”

Currently, no federal charges have been filed against the school regarding to these alleged claims.

In the the October letter, the senators acknowledged the allegations have been difficult to investigate due to the school’s “opaque financial practices,” citing the absence of a “satisfactory response” to their requests as a cause for concern.

“The students at Chemawa and their families deserve answers to these questions that have lingered around the school for far too long,” Wyden said in a statement to KOIN 6 News. “That’s why Senator Merkley and I are pressing federal agencies for answers that provide a speedy path to resolution and transparency that includes steps such as annual budget audits, quarterly financial reviews, meaningful monitoring site visits and a functioning school board.”

Wyden continued, “All of those oversight steps are a must so these students have the best possible opportunity for success.”

Both senators say they have not yet received a response from the Inspector General in regards to the letter or requests for the agency to update its 2015 review of the school.

KOIN 6 News reached out to the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General and received the following statement:

We have received the Senators’ request regarding the Chemawa Indian School and currently have it under active consideration. Overseeing taxpayer dollars that fund Native American schools and making recommendations for improvement is a priority for our office. We have repeatedly identified the management of Indian schools as a top challenge facing the Department of the Interior and have issued reports regarding the conditions at school facilities and oversight of school spending, among other issues.

Erica E. Paulson
Associate Inspector General, Congressional and External Affairs
Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General

The Chemawa Indian School and the Bureau of Indian Education did not immediately respond to KOIN 6 inquiries regarding the alleged claims and the letter posed by Senators Merkley and Wyden.

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