We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot
escape responsibility for the results
(Edward R. Murrow)
Published on 9 June 2011
Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellowbird Steele has been the victim of a well organized scam
On April 13, 2011 Yellowbird Steele announced on KILI radio that the United Nations Education Science Corporation Organization (UNESCO) was awarding the Oglala Sioux Tribe $7.1 billion to rebuild the Oglala Nation. He advised community members in the nine reservation districts to put their wish lists together so they could present them to representatives of UNESCO, who were doing a site visit the first week of May.
Native Sun News (April 20-26) published a front page analysis by Jeff Whalen praising Yellowbird Steele for his accomplishments. “Our President John Yellowbird Steele is at the top of the pack when it comes to making the right moves,” Whalen wrote.
He stated that during a trip to Washington D.C., Yellowbird Steele had a meeting with representatives of the United Nations. They had a conversation about the living conditions at Pine Ridge including treaty obligations of the United States.
“If you have ever seen President Steele in action you will see a man who is intelligent and who is a very, very good public speaker,” Whalen wrote. “After his conversation with the UN representatives, President Steele submitted a request to the UN. Since the UN typically helps developing countries, they decided to help the Oglalas.”
In an official letter sent to Mr. Francisco Javier Hevia Alverez, ITI-UNESCO Centro Espanol, Steele stated, “In my official position as President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, for and on behalf of the Government of the Oglala Sioux Tribe within the United States of America, I herein confirm the following:
To be applied for the betterment of our country’s economy, consisting of a multitude of humanitarian projects for aiding those within our nation who are less fortunate. The said humanitarian grant funds can be sent to our Central Bank or Government Bank.
We confirm that our direct needs are: The paying of our external debts to various world financial entities, such as The World Bank, IMF and/or equivalent, which carries an estimated value of USD: $100,000,000.00. We are also including several Social/Humanitarian and Infrastructure Projects which we are planning for our Tribal Nation and carrying a monetary value of USD: $7,021,050,000.00. The total monetary figure needed to resolve all urgent matters will be USD: $7,121,050,000.00.”
Several calls to the OST president’s office in regard to the UNESCO grant were never returned. Elizabeth Howe, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who is currently working as a grant writer for the Colusa Indian Community Council in Northern California, said the Colusa received the same solicitation from ITI UNESCO.
“UNESCO contacted us. They said they were part of the United Nations. What they were asking and what they were telling us, well you know if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she said.
Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellowbird Steele.
What initially sparked suspicions was the email address for ITI UNESCO. “Because on the documents that they gave us was a gmail.com address and if you are working for the UN it should be unitednations.org or unitednations.gov," Howe said.
The man who presented himself as a UN spokesperson was Frank Mezias who spoke with a strong Tennessee accent she said with the email address email@example.com “We actually brought our Vice-Chairwoman in and we brought our Chief Financial Officer, a tribal planner and controller and we had a conference call with these guys that were supposedly going to give us millions of dollars,” she said.
After grilling the self proclaimed UNESCO representatives with a series of questions they were unable to answer, the Colusa Tribe contacted the UN. “So we did some digging and contacted the UN in New York. The gentleman from the UN that I talked to said the people who contacted us weren’t affiliated in any way with the United Nations like they say. In fact he never heard of them,” Howe said.
A letter from Paulette O’Sullivan, Senior Administrative Assistant UNESCO New York states, “This is indeed unauthorized use/misuse of UNESCO’s name. There have been several inquiries, especially from Native American Indian tribes in recent weeks concerning these bogus offers of funds offered by alleged agents of “ITI Unesco” in Spain. There is no Unesco entity called “ITI Unesco.”
“Please do not to provide their banking account details, no matter how much money is offered. What often happens when funds are promised is that the victim provides his bank account number and sample signature, thinking that funds will be transferred into that account, but then the fraudsters imitate the signature to transfer funds OUT of the bank account into their own offshore account," the letter stated.
According to A. Gay Kingman Executive Director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association other tribes may have fallen victim to the scam. In February during a meeting of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s association the UNESCO grant offer was discussed.
However the plot to scam Indian tribes began to fall apart when Representative Charles Turbiville (R-Deadwood) who was contacted by Mezias about funding from UNESCO for the deep underground laboratory project in Lead, warned tribes to beware of Mezias.
In a Feb. 8 letter to Yankton Chairman Robert Cournoyer, Turbiville states, “Because I was afraid that this might be a scam in which South Dakotans might be asked to send money to the Ukraine in order that larger amounts be sent to South Dakotans, I contacted the United States Department of State."
“It has an office that is the United States government’s liaison with UNESCO. Mr. Eric Woodard of that office contacted the UNESCO world office in Paris and determined that Mr. Mezias is not an ‘Authorized UNESCO Representative.’ Mr. Woodard stated that Mr. Mezias activities were not associated with UNESCO," Turbiville wrote.
Patty Gourneau of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and Peter Langeek of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribes forwarded Turbiville’s letter to Mezias which prompted a tirade of verbal slurs directed at the Deadwood legislator. Turbiville “Good Morning Representative Turbiville, I cannot remember the last time I was ever in my life more furious and upset and down out angry with someone, than I am at this moment with you. You sir, have stirred up a hornet’s nest with your ignorance and incompetence. You have royally peeved me off," Mezias responded.
“With your unfounded ‘knee-jerk’ reaction, instead of ‘level headed’ response to my UNESCO proposal, you have caused untold amounts of damage to me, but mostly to the tribal Indians of South Dakota and Americans who so desperately need the funding I am working so damn hard to obtain for them from the United Nations," he said.
“I work 10 to 20 hours every single day of the week to help these people Sir … and in one stupid selfish stroke of a pen, you have attempted to destroy the potential multi-billion dollar financial benefits that these Indians have a Sovereign right to obtain and enjoy for themselves," he continued.
“I gave you the EXACT coordinates and information as to how to absolutely 100 percent verify the UNESCO offer I gave you, and to verify myself as well. Are you so dang ‘hillbilly-illiterate’ that you cannot even follow simple directions? I’d guess you would have difficulty pouring piss out of a boot if the directions were on the bottom of the boot. You are a bona fide jerk representative Turbiville!” Mezias concluded.
Indian Tribes across the U.S. have exchanged these emails alerting them of the potential danger of being scammed by Mezias and others who claim to be representatives of ITI UNESCO: “Disregard any letters or calls referring to any free grants to you or to your tribe. Do not return any phone calls. Do not be tempted to get something for nothing! If they catch you on the phone, get their name and phone number immediately give to the police and FBI.”
All of the information has been turned over to the US Attorney’s office.
(Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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