Exposing Abramoff’s Playbook: Play #1

As the number of cash-fueled tribal civil wars in Indian Country only increases--here and here are two illustrative headlines in just this past week--I reprise my exposition of "Abramoff's Playbook" from earlier this summer through a series of blogs. ("Exposing Abramoff's Playbook" will also soon re-run in its entirety, via Indian Country Today Media Network.)

"We do a recall, election and take over.  Let's discuss." – Jack Abramoff, February 14, 2002

In professional sports “the playbook is a sacred hardbound diary of trust.  It's an accumulation of decades' worth of knowledge, tweaked and perfected, sectioned off by scribbles and colored tabs.”

Looming large in Indian Country right now, there’s another kind of playbook; a dark one.  The plays were originally designed by Jack Abramoff during his infamous stint at Ysleta Del Sur, Coushatta and Saginaw Chippewa.  For the last two decades, Casino Jack’s playbook has been enhanced with the knowledge of other lawyers, lobbyists and executives, especially those in the Indian gaming industry.   Even Native lawyers are now picking up and deploying the playbook. 


The plays are shrewdly designed to divide and conquer Tribal Councils and communities from within, while federal trustees stand on the sidelines.  The first few plays are as scripted as an NFL team’s opening drive.

Play #1—Create a Tribal Leadership Dispute.  Whether through “recall, election and takeover,” or some form of Tribal Chairman fiat or General Council coup d’état and resulting insurrection, the Abramoffs of the world—the bad guys—know that if Tribal governmental factions can be created, it will paralyze all interested parties, including all levels of federal government, tribal and state law enforcement, and financial institutions. In turn, those pivotal players will not immediately know who to treat as the “rightful Tribal Council” for purposes of government-to-government relations, law and order, or financial security.

The bad guys will begin their takeover by setting their sights on weak persons or institutions in the Tribe, and then exploiting those weaknesses to drive a deep wedge into the heart of the community.  They will tap, even bribe, a weak Chairman, or a group of dissident members, or notoriously unethical Tribal officers or employees.  P.L. 280 jurisdictions are particularly vulnerable to such organized crime given perennial inter-agency law enforcement indecision and inaction.

In the face of a takeover, the United States must “recognize the last undisputed officials” as tribal officials—meaning the officials in office immediately before the leadership dispute was manufactured—for government-to-government purposes, until the dispute can be settled pursuant to tribal law and procedure.  Alturas Indian Rancheria v. Acting Pacific Regional Director, 54 IBIA 1, 8 (2011).  But the bad guys know that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will be slow to make that declaration.

The bad guys also know that if the BIA does ever declare the Tribe’s last undisputed officials as rightful leadership, they can immediately appeal any decision that goes against them and stay its effect for up to three years, given the current backlog at the Interior Board of Indian Appeals.  25 C.F.R. 2.6(b).  While the appeal lumbers along, and the bad guys declare that the decision has no effect pending that appeal, they mount a concerted war of attrition against anybody who stands in their way.

Stay tuned for more blogs exposing several other schemes from Abramoff's Playbook.

Gabriel “Gabe” Galanda is the Managing Partner at Galanda Broadman. He is a citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Gabe can be reached at 206.300.7801 or gabe@galandabroadman.com.