Two Washington attorneys representing the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe in its effort to win federal recognition have resigned, and one faction in the tribal dispute says it is because of frustration with John Sinclair.
Sinclair, of Havre, claims to be the legitimate president of the tribe, as does John Gilbert of Great Falls. The two factions have been involved in a years-long verbal fight.
Co-counsel Heather Sibbison was quoted in a Saturday press release from the Gilbert faction as saying “my very great hope that you will somehow find a way to heal the many wounds so evident from the written and electronic correspondence that has crossed my desk over the last many months.”
Most of the hostile emails received by the Havre Daily News have been from Gilbert supporters.
Sibbison and attorney Arlinda Locklear are with the high-powered law/lobbying firm Patton Boggs.
Although the Little Shell is accepted by Montana as a tribe, it has been unsuccessful in its decades-long effort to win federal recognition. Unlike Montana's other seven tribes, it does not have a reservation.
Montana's federal lawmakers have supported federal recognition, but the proposal has been rejected by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Both sides have speculated that the tribal discord is at least in part to blame for BIA's rejection of recognition, which would open the door to federal funds and benefits for trial members.
For a while, it appeared that a deal may have been arranged that would have solved the dispute.
On June 25, under the direction of mediator David Rash of Wisconsin, the two sides agreed to hold a special election within 90 days.
But almost immediately, the sparring between the two sides resumed.
For instance, the Gilbert faction wanted an immediate announcement of the deal, and Sinclair balked.
Gilbert's supporters wanted to hold the election under the terms of the tribe's constitution, while Sinclair said his board should run the process, according to James Parker Shield, a spokesman for Gilbert.
Shield said Sinclair wanted to bar people from voting if Sinclair had disqualified or disenrolled them. The tribal constitution has no provision for disenrollment, Shield said,
Shield said similar tactics called into question Sinclair's re-election in 2009, triggering the dispute.
Shield said his group was hoping a special election would bring the lingering dispute to a close, but their optimism has waned.
"We feel frustrated," he said. "We can't sue in federal court because the tribe doesn't have federal recognition."
"And we can't sue in Montana courts because they say it is an issue of Indian sovereignty."
He said discontent with Sinclair is increasing.
"At every step of the way, he has acted like a dictator," Shield said.