By Tim Eberly
In 1958, more than 100 enrolled members of the local Chippewa Cree tribe were stripped of their tribal membership because they had not lived on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation for the previous decade.
An amendment passed last week in the tribe's secretarial election will ensure that won't happen again. With the amendment one of four that passed March 6 in the tribe's first constitutional revision since 1972 the only way a tribal member can lose membership status is by enrolling with a different tribe.
"Once you're a member, you're always a member," said James Montes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs field representative at Rocky Boy. "There was such an uproar over it that it hasn't been enforced since (1958). It created a lot of hard feelings."
Though 389 people registered for the election, only 175 members cast votes. The election had been scheduled for September but was delayed so more people could fill out the special registration for the election.
About 1,200 Rocky Boy residents voted in the November 2000 tribal election.
Of the 190 absentee ballots that were mailed out to voters, 91 were returned to the BIA.
The BIA needed at least 117 people to vote 30 percent of the voters who registered for the election in order for the results to be valid. Forty-four percent of the registered voters participated in the election.
"The rest didn't care," Montes said. "They were apathetic. I guess it's harder to get people to vote for governmental reform than it is for a tribal election, when you're voting for a candidate that you support."
Results were posted Wednesday afternoon at about 10 public places on the reservation, including Stone Child College and the tribal office. The BIA extended the deadline for absentee ballots by a week.
A heavy snowstorm on Election Day may have affected voter turnout at the polling place at Stone Child College, Montes said. Despite the availability of stew and fry bread, only 84 people cast ballots in person.
The weather "was pretty bad out here," Montes said. "The roads were kind of bad. So I was pretty proud of the 84 people that took the time and interest to brave the cold weather and vote."
A three-day waiting period exists for official protests. After that, Montes will forward the results to the BIA's Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Billings. He said the new amendments could go into effect by April.
Passed by a 147-27 vote, Amendment A will cut the lame-duck period for elected tribal council members and judges from six months to one month. Also, the terms of the tribe's chief judge and two associate judges will be staggered.
In tribal court, the maximum penalty for convictions will be increased from six months in jail to one year, and from a $500 fine to $1,000. The Chippewa Cree tribal court only prosecutes misdemeanors; all felonies are handled in federal court. That amendment passed 112-62.
Chippewa Cree members convicted of a felony or a drug charge on or off the reservation must wait five years after serving their penalty before they can run for a tribal office, according to Amendment C, which passed by a 154-20 vote. That waiting period also will exist for individuals convicted of misdemeanor bribery or dishonesty in tribal court.