Go Fish
Pyramid Lake Tribe Members Halt
Lawyer's Development-Dollar Dip

by Tim Findley
The Magpie

More than 30 members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe confronted their council and its two top advisors early this month over an attempt by the tribe's lawyer to dip into trust funds reserved for economic development.
"Enough is enough. We're almost broke from paying him now. I won't let him take the money meant for our kids," said Elmira Copelan, a spokeswoman for the Pyramid Lake Coalition. She presented the tribal council with a petition signed by 154 of the 630-some enrolled members of the tribe.
Council Chairman Mervin Wright accused the coalition of working against tribal interests by opposing implementation of U.S. Senator Harry Reid's so-called "Settlement Act," but Wright acquiesced to the members' demands and agreed to rescind a letter he had already written to Reid asking the Senator for special legislation that would allow Tribal Attorney Robert Pelcyger to utilize interest earned on some $47 million being held in trust for economic development at Pyramid Lake.
The funds were not expected to be released to the tribe until after members vote later this year on a referendum to approve terms of implementing the settlement.
At a May 2 tribal council meeting, however, both Pelcyger and the tribe's hydrologist, Ali Sharoody of Stetson Engineering, appealed for payment of thousands



of dollars of overdue bills for their services.
The tribe, endowed by federal funds and earnings from their own businesses, reported annual revenues last year of slightly more than $6 million, with expenditures exceeding that by nearly $50,000.
Pelcyger, however, had in the past relied on payment of part of his fees by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs which this year is facing budget cuts of its own. Sharoody, whose contract with the tribe calls for $130,000 a year, complained that his firm is still owned $42,000 from last year's contract.
When tribal fisheries director Paul Wagner objected that assigning Sharoody's contract to his department would virtually break the tribal fisheries program, Pelcyger was ready with his own solution.
"Bob said he recognizes this and [that] the period we're going through is an intense period [in] which he doesn't see relief for the next year or two," report the official minutes of the council meeting. "The ultimate answer is the Tribe utilizing the $40 million economic development funds to become self sufficient and not have to face these


 
problems."
Pelcyger acknowledged that those funds are being held in trust until the settlement is implemented, but told the Pyramid Lake council he had been successful before in breaking loose interest on trust funds held for another tribe he represented in California.
The attorney urged immediate action to take advantage of the federal budgetary process for appropriations under way now in Washington, and suggested that if the tribe acted quickly, they might even be successful in making release of the money retroactive to 1997.
No strings would be attached to the money, Pelcyger assured the council, even if the tribe didn't approve the settlement.
"He spoke with Mary Conelly of Senator Reid's office and she indicated that she probably wouldn't get a chance to talk to the Senator about this but she didn't think there would be a problem and that the Senator would do it and the Senator is the one who is perfectly situated to do it," the council minutes reported.
Pelcyger even had ready answers to concerns by the council members that such supplementary funds might interfere with other federal funding to the tribe.
"Bob said this shouldn't be a problem because the money is already




in the Treasury, it's not even an additional outlay and all the other Senators are going to defer to Senator Reid because this is his baby..."
It took more than a week for word to spread around the tribe of what was afoot, and by then Pelcyger had already drafted a letter for Chairman Wright to send and fax to Senator Reid, suggesting specific points of the proposed amendment to the 1998 Interior Appropriations Act and even citing the earlier use of funds for a California tribe managed by Pelcyger.
Some tribal members saw it as more than an innocent way to supplement the budget of tribal government. Many of them strongly believe the $47 million should be apportioned among enrolled members and not assigned to pay lawyer bills.
Public notices warning of the grab for settlement money went up in Wadsworth, Nixon and other parts of the reservation.
Pelcyger and Sharoody were in attendance at the June 6 meeting when the coalition presented its petition and won council agreement to rescind the letter. According to sources, neither the lawyer nor the hydrologist made any vocal objections.
But the incident, and still growing financial pressure on the tribe, are adding strain to


 
the unified tribal support long assumed to have been behind Pelcyger's relentless efforts to halt any Newlands use of Truckee River water for irrigation.
"Of course we want the water




for the lake," Mrs. Copelan said, "but a lot of us are not sure that's even what it's about any more. We need to know how much we're paying our lawyer -- and what for?"


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