Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - After what Rocky Boy tribal council members described as a tense few weeks, the tribal council regrouped and tried to send a positive message at a meeting Thursday.
The tribal council has been criticized by community members recently, first for excluding the Havre Daily News from a Sept. 9 tribal council meeting, and then for considering a $15,000 raise for tribal council members.
Council members Thursday did not refer directly to either issue.
Council chairman John ”Chance“ Houle began the meeting by inviting tribal elder Ken Gopher to say a prayer ”for unity“ and then asked each council member to speak.
”We've kind of been under the ax somewhat,“ Houle said.
He referred to tensions within the council too. ”We have some differences at times, but we're back at the table the next day,“ he said.
Two of the council's nine members, Rusty Gopher and Ricky Morsette, had opposed a $15,000 pay raise for tribal council members in a Sept. 22 council vote.
Houle said in an interview on Sept. 27 that council members had also proposed a 5 percent across-the-board raise for tribal employees at that meeting and had considered a maximum raise of $15,000 for council members.
Morsette and Gopher said the Sept. 22 vote was for a $15,000 council raise only.
Gopher said he believed council members proposed the 5 percent raise only after news of the five-figure raise came out.
Council members are paid $75,000 a year, the vice chair gets $80,000 and the chairman gets $85,000, according to Houle.
Tribal employees have not received a pay raise for two years.
The council ratified the across-the- board raise for all employees, including council members, on Thursday.
The raise increases council member salaries by $3,750, the vice chair salary by $4,000, and the council chair salary by $4,250.
The Sept. 22 vote was 5-2, with Houle, Raymond ”Jake“ Parker, Brian ”Kelly“ Eagleman, Donovan Stump and vice chair Bruce Sun Child voting in favor of the raise, and Gopher and Morsette opposed. Council members Jonathan Windy Boy and Kenny Writing Bird did not attend the meeting.
”We need community support. Not only do us nine gentlemen have to get along ... we need the community to get behind us,“ Houle said Thursday.
He added that he invited some community members who had criticized the council's decisions to attend the meeting, but said none came.
”In order for things to get better, it has to get worse. The last week and a half, we don't think it can get worse,“ he said.
Houle said the council in the last year has had a lot of success moving projects forward, such as a proposed casino and ethanol plant. ”If we could have the community support us, how much further could we be?“ he asked.
At least two community members agreed. Elder Joann Ahenakew and Yvonne Demontiney sat together through the council's nine-hour meeting Thursday to share their support for the council at the meeting's end.
”I highly respect you guys. I support you ... I'm asking you to please not let this woman on our reservation anymore,“ Ahenakew said of the Havre Daily News reporter who attended the meeting.
After the meeting, Ahenakew said she fears Houle gets the brunt of criticisms.
During Thursday's meeting, the eight council members echoed Houle's call for unity.
”If we're going to get anything in this world, it's going to come from within,“ council member Parker said.
Morsette said he wants the council to move forward. ”I want to get this turmoil behind us,“ he told his fellow council members and a room full of more than 30 observers.
”We've got too much at stake with all this economic development,“ he added.
Gopher spoke more generally.
”Like everybody else, it's been a pretty challenging few weeks,“ Gopher said. ”Three years ago I was given a task by the community to help in some way. ... I've learned every day I've been here. We have a lot of work to do. Every one of us. I will continue to pray to do in my heart what is right.“