By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Chippewa Cree Grassroots People is circulating a petition opposing an election scheduled for Tuesday at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The petition supports seeking an injunction against the secretarial election, said Russell Standing Rock, spokesman for the group.
"It's against the election and in support of the injunction to stop the secretarial election," he said.
Standing Rock said he plans to seek an injunction Monday in tribal court.
The election asks tribal members to adopt several proposed changes to the Chippewa Cree constitution and bylaws. According to federal law, the Bureau of Indian Affairs must administer the election.
The group's objections to the election are similar to those that surfaced the last time the BIA held an election to change the tribe's constitution and bylaws in 2002, Standing Rock said. Those objections include concerns that tribal members, both on and off the reservation, were not properly notified of the election.
The BIA is required to give all eligible voters notice of the election by mail.
"I'm sure that the majority of the people outside the reservation were not informed," Standing Rock said. Even some tribal members living on the reservation did not receive letters, and the letters that were sent out were not consistent, he said. Many of the letters did not include a voter registration form, and none of them included information about the proposed changes, he said.
"A lot of tribal members here weren't even aware (of the election) even though they live here locally," Standing Rock said.
Standing Rock would not say how many people have signed the petition so far, but said the group's goal is to get more signatures than the number of people who are registered to vote in Tuesday's election.
BIA field officer James Montes said Monday that 374 tribal members registered before the Dec. 17 deadline.
Montes said today he had not heard of the group's plan to seek an injunction, but he defended the BIA's handling of the election.
"We sent out as many letters as we could for people we had addresses for," Montes said. He said many tribal members living off the reservation had moved without notifying the tribe of their forwarding address, so at least 200 of the notification letters came back to his office unopened.
Montes said notification letters were sent to every adult on the reservation, and that all of them had a registration form enclosed.
The list of tribal members the BIA used this year was more up-to-date than the list Montes had in 2002. In the last election, he said, he had requested an updated list from the tribal enrollment department, but it never came, so he used a 1999 list. This year, he said, the tribal enrollment department sent an updated list in November, so the notification letters were more likely to go to current addresses.
He said his office didn't provide a description of each amendment in the letters. Instead, the proposed amendments were posted at various places on the reservation. The letters also notified people they could get copies of the proposed amendments at the BIA office, he said.
Montes said he thinks the election should go on.
"We tried the best we could to notify each individual by letter," he said. "Sure, there's probably people that didn't receive their letter, because they moved."
Tribal council chair Alvin Windy Boy Sr. and vice chair Bruce Sunchild did not return calls asking for comment today.
Tribal chief of staff Richard Sangrey said he had heard of the petition.
"I would be speaking out of place without reviewing everything," he said.
In April 2002, about 100 tribal members calling themselves the Grassroots People marched to protest the tribe's March 2002 secretarial election. At issue was a "dual enrollment" amendment on the ballot, which said tribal members enrolled at another reservation in the United States or Canada would lose their status as tribal members at Rocky Boy if they didn't discontinue the second enrollment.
The provision initially passed 123-52, but the protesters, most of whom were also enrolled members of Canadian tribes, said the BIA did not properly notify all eligible voters by mail before the election. The majority of Rocky Boy residents are enrolled in reservations in Canada, and those people would have voted against the amendment if they had known about the election, the group said.
After the protest, the election results were thrown out at the request of the Chippewa Cree tribal council.
The dual enrollment provision is not on the ballot for Tuesday's election, but Standing Rock said he opposes all the proposed changes to the tribe's bylaws and constitution.
Several of the proposed changes on the ballot were also on the ballot in 2002. The first would move the primaries for tribal council members from June to October to reduce the lame-duck period for ousted incumbents.
The second would would increase the maximum penalty for misdemeanor convictions in tribal court from six months in prison and a fine of $500 to a year in prison and a fine of $5,000.
The third proposed change would prohibit tribal members who have been convicted of a felony in federal or state court from running for tribal office within five years of the end of their sentence. It also would apply to people who have been convicted in state, tribal or federal court of the use, possession or sale of illegal drugs.
The fourth change would delete a provision from the constitution that revokes tribal membership if a person has been away from the reservation for 10 years without coming before the tribal council to apply for an extension of his or her membership.
The fifth proposed amendment, the only one that did not go before the voters in 2002, would enable the tribal council to appoint the chief tribal judge and two associate judges. Those judges are now elected to four-year terms. The amendment also would give the council the authority to appoint a chief appellate court judge, who would appoint an unspecified number of appellate panel judges.
The last time the tribe's 1935 constitution was successfully amended was 1972.