Gov. Brian Schweitzer will not make a decision on which council is the official body leading the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, his communications director announced Tuesday. “The Governor's Office believes that the Little Shell, as a sovereign Tribe, can and must resolve its internal differences without interference from state government,” Sarah Elliott said. “We encourage internal resolution of these issues, and look forward to continuing our government-to-government relationship with a unified Little Shell Tribe.” A group of Little Shell calling themselves the Little Shell Chippewa Alliance spearheaded a Tribal council election this month, saying the existing council was selected through an invalid election. Two members of that council resigned, with one being elected to the new council. John Sinclair, the chair of the council elected in March 2009, has said that the new election is invalid. He said he plans to convene a tribunal to investigate the people involved in organizing the March 2010 election and a constitutional referendum conducted in January. Sinclair said Tuesday he commends S c h w e i t z e r ’ s remaining neutral. “Unt i l al l well-meaning but misguided individuals understand that this must be resolved within the Tribe they will continue t o e n c o u r a g e those that are c onfus ing and d e c e i v i n g t h e Little Shell people,” Sinclair said. The latest election selected a new council, with John Gilbert as the chair, which the group contesting the 2009 election says is the official governing body of the Tribe. It held its first official meeting Saturday. Gilbert and other members of the Little Shell Alliance could not be reached for comment this morning. The election comes during a time of Trials and tribulations, including the contested 2009 election, for the 4,300-member Tribe that is spread throughout Montana and other states. L a s t s u m m e r, t h e Department of the Interior ruled against a 1978 request by the Tribe that the federal government recognize it as a sovereign tribe. That was the latest in a series of requests made by the Little Shell members since they were excluded from an 1863 treaty that recognized other tribes. Montana’s members of Congress, Rep. Denny Rehberg and Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, sponsored bills last summer following the Interior Department’s decision that would provide recognition of the Tribe. Montana already has officially recognized the Tribe. Sinclair said that is one reason he wants the dispute over the council resolved. “Until this splinter group recognizes the authority of this council and comes back to the Tribe to resolve their issues they will continue to hurt what chances we have of Federal recognition,” he said Tuesday. The Little Shell Tribe also ran into trouble wi th i t s accounting procedures. The state withheld grant money allocated to the Tribe after an audit revealed irregularities in the procedures that could, potentially, lead to abuse. That included Schweitzer, following a recommendation of the s tate Depar tment of Commerce, moving a $417,000 allocation from the Tribe to the state General Fund, in an attempt to help offset projected revenue shortfalls. The election contention arises from Sinclair delaying an election scheduled for November 2008, which the opposition group says was in violation of the Tribal constitution. The election held in March 2009 also is in violation of the constitution, the group says. The group held an election in January on a referendum to amend the constitution, which passed by a considerable majority of the 400-some Tribal members who voted. It then organized the election this month. John LaSalle of Box Elder and Leona Kienenberger of Dodson both resigned from the council elected in 2009 in February, with Kienenberger running in the new election and elected to the position of second vice chair. LaSalle said in February he would not run, citing a lack of time and that he believed running in the new election would not be appropriate. Sinclair said the reason the 2008 election was delayed was to allow people excluded from the election to have a hearing. The 2009 election was proper and the council elected is the official governing body, he said. “I believe that there are many individuals within the splinter group that are good people but are relying on the word of those who, because of personal vendettas, are using false allegations and distortions to attack the counci l and mysel f , ” he sai d Tuesday.
Schweitzer will stay out of Little Shell flap
Published: Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
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