By Tim Eberly
The Chippewa Cree tribal council has postponed a Sept. 22 secretarial election on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation due to a shortage of registered voters.
By the Aug. 15 registration deadline, only 299 adult enrolled members of the tribe were registered to vote in the special election, compared with 1,200 voters for the November 2000 tribal election.
Registration for the secretarial and tribal elections are independent. Only a tribal identification is required at voting booths for a tribal election while the secretarial election requires potential voters to fill out a one-page form prior to a specified registration deadline.
On Sept. 6, James Montes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs field representative at Rocky Boy who was coordinating voter registration, met with the Chippewa Cree tribal council to discuss the low registration turnout. The decision was unanimous to delay the election. Montes said the election could take place in November.
"The tribal council felt that the number was too low," Montes said today. "We just sort of left the registration open indefinitely. That's still open for discussion."
To promote registration for the election, Montes said he contacted the media and had two temporary employees, who have since been laid off due to a lack of funds, go to the tribal businesses and offices in an attempt to register employees. With the postponement, Montes said the tribal council requested that he make more aggressive steps to get people to register.
"They wanted me to go door to door to register people," said Montes, who has registered 25 more people since Sept. 6. "But I'm the only field employee here at Rocky Boy Agency, so I don't have the time."
Since adopting a constitution and bylaws in 1935, the Chippewa Cree Tribe has only amended it with a secretarial election once in 1972. Montes was, and still is, looking forward to making history. "I wanted to get it completed on Sept. 22," he said.
Meantime, the tribal council is attempting to garner a waiver for the registration procedure from the BIA's central office in Washington, D.C. In order to pass a resolution to allow Chippewa Cree members simply to present their tribal identification on the day of the election, the tribal council must draft a formal request to the BIA's regional office in Billings, which will forward the request to the central office.
"To me, it would be easier," Montes said.