By Alan Sorensen
Six separate ballot issues could result in four changes in the constitution and bylaws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe next month.
A secretarial election will be conducted by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs at the request of the Tribal Business Committee of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation on Sept. 22. All enrolled members of the tribe 18 years of age or older are eligible to vote, but voters must be registered before 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Voter registration is being conducted by James Montes at the BIA office at Rocky Boy Agency.
"The important message to get out to the voters is that it is not a tribal election, it is an election by the BIA," said Montes, BIA field representative at Rocky Boy. "The misconception that tribal members have may be that (they're) already registered with the tribe, but this is a BIA election. They have to register with the BIA to vote."
Montes noted that U.S. voter registration is not valid either, so everyone who wants to vote must register with his office by Wednesday.
"Since I'm the only BIA officer out here, I hired a couple of tribal members to help me," Montes said. Those employees are Walter "Moose" Denny and Leon "Blackie" Sutherland.
A group of amendments members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe will consider this fall would shorten the length of time ousted incumbents retain their seat following an election and the time it takes their replacements to move in. Tribal members also will be asked to increase the severity of the penalties that can be handed down in Tribal Court, redefine reasons why members are disallowed from running for tribal office, and limit the reasons that a person may lose tribal membership.
The lame-duck period following primary elections at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation would be reduced from its current six months to just one month.
Included among those amendments are two to move the primary election from June to October.
A change in Article XII, Section 2 would establish staggered four-year terms of office for the tribal judges. Rescheduling of the terms would begin with the 2004 general election. At that time, the head judge would be elected for a four-year term. The two associate judges would be elected for two years for one time only. Those two positions would be up for election on a four-year basis in 2006. The head judge position would go up for election again in 2008.
The next second amendment would affect the Indian Civil Rights Act portion of the constitution and bylaws under Article XI. It would expand penalties the tribal courts can hand down.
Article XI, subsection (g) was rewritten to increase the maximum jail sentence the courts can impose from six months to one year. If passed, the amendment also would increase the maximum fine from $500 to $5,000.
Article IV, Section 2, subsection (d) would expand the reasons that a person may be ineligible for tribal office. Subsections (e) and (f) would be added. Subsection (d) was rewritten to include any state or federal felony conviction and (e) and (f) were written to include drug convictions and failed drug tests. All of the subsections would restrict candidates from running for five years after completion of their penalties or five years from the date of the failed drug test.
The loss of tribal membership would become more difficult with passage of the amendment to Article II, Section 1, subsection (d). The current subsection would be deleted in its entirety and replaced. The new subsection would allow a member to forfeit membership only if found to have membership in another federally recognized tribe or Canadian Band or reserve.
Montes said the election is the result of several years of public meetings, meetings with the tribal council and meetings with the tribal election board.
"Also, I sent out a questionnaire a couple of years ago to as many tribal members as possible to see what they would like to vote on," Montes said. "It's been a long process. Gilbert Belgarde and Suzanne Stump were involved several years ago in calling public meetings and so on and so forth. They received an ANA (Administration for Native Americans) grant specifically for that project."
After about 10 years of work and research, tribal members are finally on the verge of casting their votes following a vote last month of the tribe's Business Committee.
"It's a culmination," said Montes, who is also an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. "We had two options in our constitution. You could go the petition process where you have so many people sign the petition. We had that option, but you have to have a certain number of adults sign the petition. We were looking at 2,000, 2,500 signatures. The other option was for the tribal council itself to pass a resolution requesting a secretarial election, which they did on July 9.
"So that's why we're going forth with it."
Montes said registration forms can be picked up at his office at the agency or by mail. Mail requests should be addressed to Bureau of Indian Affairs, Rocky Boy's Agency, RR1 Box 542, Box Elder, MT 59521.
Anyone with questions or wanting more information is asked to call Montes at (406) 395-4476 or to e-mail him at JamesMontes@bia.gov .