August 30, 2002

  Native American Press / Ojibwe News

Problems at St. Cloud Indian Center?

by Clara NiiSka

Allegations of financial mismanagement by Debbie Fuller, former director of the St. Cloud Area American Indian Center, have resulted in documents being turned over to law enforcement officials for investigation and possible criminal prosecution of Fuller, according to an informed source.  "She was asked to bring the financial reports to the board meetings, but" Fuller claimed the information was "not available," the source said.

"In June," the board "had to go to the bank to get copies" of cancelled checks" in order to ascertain the financial situation at the Indian Center, and "when they got copies of checks written to on the Indian Center account, they noticed" that the Board member's counter-signature on the checks appear to have been forged, the source said.  One of the members of the Board of Directors has reportedly filed a notarized statement that "he never signed any checks that Fuller has written," and his counter-signature on Indian center checks is allegedly different than his signature on that sworn and witnessed statement.

Nancy Harliss, who took over management of the Indian center last September, is reportedly "meeting with police" in efforts to resolve any problems.

Another source familiar with the operations of the Indian Center during much of Fuller's six years as director said that although she was unaware of the specifics, she was "not surprised" at the allegations of problems dating from Fuller's administration.  Drum groups and others providing services to the Indian center were "always paid in cash," she said, "not checks," and they were "paid 'very well'," despite what she describes as a generally "low turnout" for events.  "There was never a full board in place," the former insider continued, operations at the Indian center were "so unstructured," and "the way they handled things was irresponsible."

Harliss, the current director of the Indian center, told Press/ON that, "at this point in time, I am not at liberty to say anything," and that she has been "advised not to talk by the people that we're working with."  This writer asked, "I suppose you can't tell me who you're working with?"  Harliss said that she had been advised not to.

Harliss characterized the operations of the St. Cloud Area American Indian Center -- a different organization than the Indian Center associated with the University at St. Cloud -- as small-scale.  "We operate on soft money," funded by "grants that we write, and donations from the community," Harliss said.

During the eleven-plus months that she has directed the Indian center, Harliss said that the budget has been "less than $25,000," including grant money from the Bremer Foundation.  Services currently offered by the Indian center include "social services, for example an emergency food shelf," as well as a "dress for success" program and a summer "arts and crafts program for kids."  The Indian center has reportedly also received grant funding in the past from the McKnight Foundation and the Bush Foundation.

Harliss indicated that in addition to resolving the problems currently facing the Indian center, she hopes to improve programming at the Indian center to better serve the "about 400 Indian families" in the St. Cloud area.

According to one community member who asked not to be named, under Harliss's management things have already improved at the St. Cloud Area Indian Center.  There is "a new office, an area to do crafts, a play area for kids ...  it's more like an Indian center than what Debbie [Fuller] had."  She said that she would like to see more women's programming at the Indian center, including crafts programs where women could "come and quilt and do things."

There are hopes in the community that "when the whole (financial) mess is straightened up," community members can "put together a benefit" concert to help get the Indian center "back on their feet again ... to get the people back again," re-involved with the Indian center.