Sunday, October 19, 2003
An Indian tribe is mismanaging its money.
Anthony Alvarado is the man who uncovers the misuse of funds and is threatened with death. As he investigates the inaccuracies, he stumbles upon the murders of others who shared his mission.
That is the chain of events set into action by Alvarado on his return to his reservation in Oklahoma in James C. Cisneros' newly released novel, "Moccasins, Money and Murder."
Even though the characters and tribe are fictitious, the book serves as a way to talk about the very real events that plagued Cisneros, a Kansas University student and Lawrence resident, upon his return to the Kickapoo Reservation in Horton.
"After two years of struggling and fighting and trying to figure out how everything fit together, I decided to write it in a book," Cisneros says. "It is fiction, but a lot of it is based on things that I, as well as my family and other tribal members, went through."
In the novel, Alvarado goes home to his tribe at the request of some of its members who are unhappy with the way the funds are being managed. Once back on the reservation, he discovers the corruption of the Euquah tribal leaders. With the help of an outside reporter -- a character named Sami Jordan who largely serves as a mouthpiece for the author -- they uncover and gain media attention to the illegal activities on the reservation.
"I have a really good friend in California who is a journalist and we always talked about Indian issues pertaining to government and society," says Cisneros. "To me, this is something she would have taken on. I think that helps me to look at it from a journalistic perspective."
A 1982 graduate of Haskell Indian Junior College, Cisneros was living in California and working as a banker when members of his family and the Kickapoo tribe asked him to return home. They were concerned about the mismanagement of the tribe's funds.
"Our main purpose for coming back was to give the tribe the benefit of what I learned as a banker in California," Cisneros says.
After returning to Kansas, Cisneros was elected to the position of gaming commissioner. Once in this position, he began to follow a disturbing paper trail. Both tribal and non-tribal members were informing him of various issues surrounding the tribe's funds from gaming casinos.
"I was inundated with a lot of calls from people talking about all the things going wrong," Cisneros says. "Everything from accusations of embezzlement to just out and out theft. As gaming commissioner, I had unfettered access to look into these accusations."
Soon Cisneros found himself the subject of investigation by the tribal council, an act he believes was a direct result of his own inquiries. Shortly after, Cisneros was terminated from his position as gaming commissioner. The result was a wrongful termination and defamation of character lawsuit, which is still pending, filed by Cisneros against the tribal council.
He continued to investigate and fight, forming the Kickapoo Alliance with other tribal members to independently look into the allegations.
"It got to a point where it was us against them," Cisneros says. "That left some very tense situations. It led to threats on members of the Kickapoo Alliance. Dead animals left at people's mailboxes, people being threatened, people being ran off the road. That is when we knew that we had obviously hit on something that threatened their leadership. Eventually it got to the point where it was not safe for me or my family on the reservation."
Getting the word out
Cisneros spent approximately one year writing the book. He passed it to friends and family for another year while he edited it. In the fall of 2002, his efforts paid off. After sending 10 queries out to various publishing companies, his manuscript was accepted by Publish America in Frederick, Md.
As a result of his novel, he has received all sorts of feedback from members of the Native American community.
"About 90 percent of the feedback is positive. The 10 percent that is negative has been from people who see me as putting Indians down," Cisneros says. "I am not putting Indians down. I am putting down how our leaders have functioned in their capacities."
Cisneros is pleased with the success of his book, although penning the first one was not always easy. He has faced adversity from members of his own tribe.
"Some of my tribal members do not understand why I wrote the book," Cisneros says. "They don't realize that it hurts me to do it, but these are issues I feel need to be addressed."
Cisneros is working on a second novel about people of two different ethnic backgrounds, as well as working to turn "Moccasins, Money and Murder" into a screenplay.
Regardless of the response to his novel, Cisneros is satisfied with the finished product and will continue to fight for the issues regarding tribal money mismanagement that are near to him. He hopes to educate both Indians and non-Indians about issues facing tribes today.
"The book gives insight to people who are not familiar, who only see the past of how Indians are or supposed to be," Cisneros says passionately. "It gives them a look at the contemporary issues facing Indians today."