Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - The Rocky Boy tribal council Friday barred the Havre Daily News from attending council meetings following an article about proposed changes to tribal enrollment policies that upset several council members.
Enrollment was on the agenda for the Friday meeting at which the reporter was barred.
Tribal attorney Dan Belcourt said today the Havre Daily News' enrollment story was the reason for the decision.
"We're really just at the ground level phase (of examining the policies). The story came out and I think a lot of our (tribal) members reacted to it," Belcourt said.
The article, which appeared Aug. 31, said the tribe was considering allowing nonenrolled grandchildren of enrolled members to become tribal members. It also said the tribe might reconsider the blood quantum, or ratio of Indian blood, used to qualify people who are born off the reservation.
Some community members objected to the council's decision to bar the newspaper.
"They don't want the truth to be published," elder Videl Stump said in an interview Friday. "I think that those (meetings) should be wide open at all times. If they're going to talk business on my behalf, I should be able to air out what I think and air out what I want, not just make a decision I don't know about that's going to hurt me in two years."
Former tribal Judge Gilbert Belgarde also criticized the decision.
"That (tribal) constitution, they might as well take that and throw it out because nobody ever follows it," he said Friday. He said his statement applies both to the council's decision to bar the newspaper and to what he said is repeated disregard for enrollment policy.
Following the Aug. 31 story, tribal council vice chair Bruce Sun Child called the newspaper's managing editor and publisher to complain about the newspaper writing about the issue of enrollment before the council had voted on it.
At an unrelated meeting at Rocky Boy on Thursday, council member Brian "Kelly" Eagleman asked the reporter if the newspaper hadn't jumped the gun by writing about a proposed change before a decision had been made. Eagleman said he was receiving complaints from community members about the proposed change and that people were concerned the change would open the floodgates for membership.
When a Havre Daily News reporter entered the monthly council meeting Friday, council members immediately called for an executive session. They told the reporter they would discuss a gag order for the newspaper. After about 10 minutes, the meeting was called back to order.
The council, by consensus, "hasasked by gag rule that the Havre Daily News be removed from council meetings effective right now," council chair John "Chance" Houle said.
Houle would not answer when the reporter asked about the reason.
"Stacey, we have spoken," Houle said, asking council security officer Stacey Small to escort the reporter from the building.
Houle also would not explain how the council can remove the press when the tribe's constitution requires that all regular meeting be open to the public.
"It's the council's wishes," Houle said.
Article VII of the tribe's 1935 constitution states, "All regular meetings of the Business Committee shall be open to the public, but visitors may not interfere with proceedings, and may only speak with the consent of the Chairman."
Belcourt said the tribe has the authority to bar the press. "The tribal council, at our meetings, we can exclude whomever. Typically they are open. I think the council is expressing a desire to keep, in this case, the Havre Daily News out."
He added, "Visitors may not interfere with the proceedings. I think this is being interpreted as the press coming in and putting out stories before ideas are flushed out (is) interfering with the governmental process."
Enrollment is a touchy issue at Rocky Boy.
Three years ago, a proposed change in enrollment policy sparked a protest and a political movement on the reservation. The tribal council proposed four amendments to the constitution in 2002, including one that would not allow dual enrollment at both a Canadian reservation and Rocky Boy.
The measure was passed in an election in which only 175 people voted. The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not accept the vote as valid because the tribe's BIA representative had not notified residents by mail of the impending vote. Also, the tribal council asked that the BIA not accept the results of the election, which was hotly contested by a group of about 100 people who called themselves the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People.
Stump said he was a member of that group. He said he does not have dual enrollment, but has grandchildren who are also enrolled with a Canadian tribe. He said the change would have removed many people born at Rocky Boy and who live at Rocky Boy from the rolls.
He said he is concerned about too many changes to enrollment policy because he fears problems could lead to termination of the reservation.
He said enrollment policies of the tribe have been mishandled for years.
Stump and Belgarde both said many people have been adopted into the tribe without a vote by the membership, as required by the constitution.
Havre Daily News publisher Harvey Brock objected to the council's action.
"I think government works best when it's open," he said today. "I think that people who elect officials have a right to observe them at work. I'm very distrubed that the council decided to remove our reporter. They serve a large number of our readers, and the Havre Daily News feels it's our responsibility to keep our readers informed of the actions of their officials."
The council's decision to bar the newspaper raised skepticism from Stump.
"No public information, that's the reason why they kicked you out, and they say they have an open-door policy," he said. "I think the only reason they are supposed to close their meetings is when they vote for someone for a job."
Stump said he believes he could be denied assistance or that he and his family could face other repercussions for talking to the newspaper, but that he chose to do so anyway because people should tell the truth.