Feds question Powhatans' spending habits

Wendy Logan
Wendy Logan
Posted: October 19, 2010

Tribal members hoped that a few thousand dollars, some outsiders who care and a renewed spirit would bolster the Powhatan Renape Nation and salvage a small slice of its tranquil South Jersey reservation.

But the United States government, according to a federal complaint filed last week, claims the nonprofit Powhatans are going to need a few thousand dollars more.

The Department of Health and Human Services is seeking to recoup close to $150,000 for two grants that the Powhatans received over the last decade, claiming that the tribe didn't comply with grant provisions, failed to invoice expenses and didn't respond when questioned about the issues.

During a sunset stroll through the Rankokus Indian Reservation, in Westampton, Burlington County, last month, tribal council member Obie Batchelor hinted at financial-mismanagement issues but said he didn't know the full scope and wasn't allowed to talk about it. Now he knows why.

"The last community meeting we had, they said, 'There's problems and we're gonna be handling it,' " Batchelor said. "When we asked for more details they said, 'You don't want to know.' "

The Department of Health and Human Services also wanted more details about how the Powhatans spent money. In one instance, the council asked for $25,000 to buy a truck but used the money for another purpose without approval. The council also failed to provide invoices, the complaint alleges, for tens of thousands of dollars in low-income-housing expenditures.

In 1982, Chief Roy Crazy Horse, former leader of the Powhatan Renape Nation, signed a 25-year lease with the state for acreage in Rancocas State Park to offer social services to the Powhatan people and promote American Indian culture. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is reducing that rent-free lease from 237 acres to five acres, citing the nation's inability to manage the land and multiple code violations.

After a story in the Daily News last month, Batchelor said people had donated money and services so that a fire-suppression system could be installed in the reservation's heritage museum by Oct. 31.

Wendy Logan, a Powhatan from South Jersey, felt that the nation's leadership should have been more open about its mismanagement issues instead of blaming others for its problems.

"If we were doing what we should have been, we wouldn't be in this position in the first place," the University of Pennsylvania graduate student said.

Logan volunteered at the Rankokus Reservation for years but believes that she was denied a registered membership because she questioned how the nation was being run.

"It really breaks my heart that something so unique may not exist anymore," she said.

The federal complaint against the Powhatan Renape Nation was issued to an address in Pennsauken, where tribal council member JoAnne Hawkins lives. Neither Hawkins, the Powhatans' representative on the New Jersey Commission on Native American Affairs or an attorney representing the U.S. returned phone calls for comment.

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