Personal and professional reasons prompted two attorneys from the Washington law/lobbying firm of Patton Boggs to back off from representing the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe, the tribal chairman said Monday.
John Sinclair took issue with comments made by a dissident faction that appeared in a Saturday story in havredailynews.com.
James Parker Shield said the two quit in frustration with Sinclair's leadership of the tribe.
Heather Sibbison, in a letter to tribal leaders, said she was leaving Patton Boggs for another job, and the Patton Boggs law firm's pro bono committee decided that no other lawyer in the firm had the time or expertise to represent the tribe.
Sinclair provided copies of emails sent by the attorneys to tribal leaders.
"I have felt a great personal commitment to the Little Shell Tribe, and it has been a privilege to work for it these last several years," Sibbison said.
"I know these are difficult, even heart-wrenching times for the Tribe. It is with great difficulty and sadness that I write to you today. It is my 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, and my very great hope that Tribe will someday be able to achieve the federal recognition which I believe it so clearly deserves."
Though federal Bureau of Indian Affairs representatives have cited other reasons, it is believed that the flap between the tribe's two factions have made it more difficult to win federal recognition for the tribe, which has no federal status or land.
Patton Boggs co-counsel Arlinda Locklear said that Sibbison's departure makes her continued representation "difficult" because of time considerations, but she wouldn't formally withdraw from representation.
The press release from the faction led by John Gilbert of Great Falls was "overtly untrue and overtly unfair," Sinclair said.
He said he was disappointed by the comments made by James Parker Shield, a spokesman for the Gilbert faction, because he had believed progress was being made in the dispute.
A June agreement to hold elections in 90 days has been jeopardized because the Gilbert faction has not abided by terms of the agreement, Sinclair said.
Sinclair said he was reluctant to sign the agreement because he thought the tribal council he leads was the legitimate tribal government. But he agreed to the new election in an attempt to end the years-long discord.
But no sooner had the agreement been signed, he said, then the Gilbert fraction started to undermine the deal.
For instance, Sinclair said he wanted to issue a joint press release that the agreement on the elections had been reached, but the Gilbert faction released a statement giving only their side of the story.
Shield was critical of Sinclair's decision to disenroll some members of the tribe prior to the 2008 election that put Sinclair in office.
"It wasn't a purge," Sinclair said.
In all, 10 people were disenrolled, including Shield, Sinclair said.
They were taken off the membership rolls in accordance with the tribal constitution, he said, because they could not prove they hae sufficient Little Shell lineage.
He said he has been portrayed as the "great Satain," because of his leadership. Other members of his council are from larger families and it would be politically unpopular to attack them, Sinclair said. He is from a small family and thus has become a target.
Sinclair said he would like to see the turmoil in the tribe come to an end, though he wasn't optimistic.
"I hope the next press release will be a mutual press release, not a story from them telling their side and us telling our response," he said.