By Alan Sorensen
The initial response of former Little Shell Tribal Chairman Debbie Swanson of Havre on the decision of the current tribal leadership to void the November election appeared flip.
"We thought Florida was bad," she said.
Her second response was sadness.
"I think this is one of the saddest days for the Little Shell election history," Swanson said. "I feel so sad for these people because they voted and they wanted to count."
Tribal leaders reportedly voided the election Saturday, kicked two members off the council and barred six candidates from running in the special election they plan to hold in January or February. A council spokesman said the action was taken because the candidates used unauthorized mailing lists.
Removed from office were Caroline Fleury and Alvina Allen. The disqualified candidates are Fleury and Allen, Darrel Koke, John Sinclair, Diann Grantham and Larry Salois.
The special election ballot will be limited to the remaining candidates on the November ballot, according to an Associated Press story Tuesday.
Candidates remaining on the ballot are John Gilbert of Chinook, the lone candidate for tribal chairman; Tim Zimmerman of Billings, current chairman and lone candidate for first vice chairman; Tobe Walker of Great Falls, the only candidate for secretary/treasurer.
One of the contested races will pit Frank "Skip" Cole of Dodson against Ronald "Cree" Doney of Harlem for second vice president. The other contested race has nine candidates vying for three seats on the council: John LaSalle of Box Elder, Walter Peterson of Babb, Debbie Phillips of Whitewater, Greg Vogel of Conrad, Henry Anderson and Roger Salois of Great Falls, Ed Lavenger and Larry Olson of Billings, Gary Salois of Big Fork.
Swanson, owner of Swanson Accounting Service in Havre, said she received numerous phone calls for tribal members throughout Montana and out of state. She said members from other tribes called, too, to ask what was going on.
"The election (board) ran a fair election," Swanson said. "The problem lies with the council dictating election procedures to the election board when they were themselves candidates. Now where is the legality here?"
Tribal spokesman Larry A. Olson of Billings argued in defense of the council's actions in a Great Falls Tribune story Monday.
"Other tribal council candidates had requested the mailing lists, but were denied use since the lists are subject to the Privacy Act and any information on these lists cannot be released without permission of the affected person," Olson is quoted as saying.
"These offending group never asked for permission to use these lists," he said. "They used them without the tribal council's knowledge."
Swanson said that allegations by sitting tribal leaders that some candidates used confidential information to campaign are false. She said that it was during the next to last year of her 13-year tenure that use of tribal rolls to identify prospective voters within a candidate's region was approved by the Tribe.
"They're quoting the Privacy Act," Swanson said. "That was an issue six years ago with the Tribe. I was the chair at that time when this was an issue. Most of those who are on the council today campaigned when this came about. See, they're switching the roles on this now."
Swanson said the purpose of the privacy act was to protect the Tribe's membership rolls and the tribal members
"It was a big controversy," Swanson said. "It came up as a compromise. How does a candidate campaign to the tribal members who are all over Montana and outside without mailing campaign flyers? Every politician is able to do it."
As a result of the compromise of six years ago, she said, candidates were provided with membership lists so they could campaign in their regions.
"One of those they are attacking now is Miss Darrel Koke," Swanson said. "At the time this was brought up, Darrel was the election committee chair. It was brought up by her and it was made legal by the council. I was the chair that it came forward to. So there's nothing illegal."
Swanson further asserted that what the candidates who were disqualified Saturday did was exactly what the members who disqualified them did to get themselves elected.
"A process of election by the people has been totally dismissed by the Tribal Council," Swanson said. "They have chosen to make use a method of removing candidates illegally. What I mean by this is the council that has done this removal has used the same technique in past elections to campaign for themselves. They're using this mail fraud and so forth, when that's how they got elected. That's how they got put on the council so what's good for one isn't good for another."
Swanson said the assertion by the sitting council that the ballots from the Nov. 17 election were never counted is untrue. She said the reason the council dismissed the two sitting members and the five candidates is because they won and the council members lost.
"The two them removed from the council, that they impeached, that's so bogus," she said. "The five candidates that they're trying to bar from another election that they plan on calling in January, when in truth, they are the true council that won this election."
Unlike the Florida situation, there is nothing confusing about what has happened in the Little Shell election as far as Swanson is concerned.
"We have opposing candidates who are sitting on the council who are preventing the candidates who ran against them so they run unopposed so they remain on the council," she said. "What a biased, prejudiced election system. I wouldn't want to win an election that way, because it's not the voice of the people."
Swanson said she would like to see members of the landless tribe come together and protest the decision.
"The only thing I think that is going to have to happen is the members are going to have to band together to ask for the removal of the present council members for not working in the interests of the tribal membership," she said. "They're working more for personal gain is what I believe."
Swanson believes that members of the Tribe that is nearing federal recognition should protest the council's actions.
"All I can say is, Little Shell members, stand up, make your vote count.' I'm really hyper on this issue," Swanson said. "I feel all the tribal members need to get to together so they can be heard. They did vote, and it was a legal election, and it is not for this council to remove the candidates that (the voters) duly elected."
Repeated telephone calls to John Gilbert's home in Chinook Tuesday and Wednesday went unanswered.