By Tim Eberly
Six-year-old Dante Standing Rock wore a portrait of Chief Little Bear, one of the founding chiefs of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, around his neck. A young man, 22-year-old Chief Standing Rock, held a framed picture of the founding chief's father, Big Bear, on his lap while he sat in a wheelchair, waiting for the protest march to begin.
About 100 enrolled members of the reservation staged a quarter-mile march at Rocky Boy this morning, in protest of a recent secretarial election conducted by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The marchers who named themselves the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People started at a Lutheran church on Parker School Road, and continued in to the Chippewa Cree tribal office, where they formally requested an appeal of the March 6 election.
Two components of the secretarial election the reservation's first since 1972 have been hotly contested. The Grassroots People said BIA field representative James Montes failed to follow BIA's Code of Federal Regulations that requires all eligible voters to be notified by mail for secretarial elections. The second complaint addresses a "dual enrollment" amendment, which says tribal members will lose their enrollment at Rocky Boy if they are enrolled at another reservation in the United States or Canada and don't discontinue the second enrollment.
The protesters said the majority of residents at Rocky Boy are enrolled in reservations in Canada. They said they would have not voted for the amendment, which passed 123-52, if they had known about the election.
"We have our own tribal council committing genocide," said Russell Standing Rock, the appointed spokesman of the Grassroots People and the maternal great-grandson of Chief Little Bear. "They're getting rid of their own people through their actions."
Montes said today that he did not meet the requirement to send out notice of the election by mail to all tribal members and instead spread word of the election through local media and by posting letters at about 10 sites on the reservation.
"The reason I didn't is because the enrollment listing is old," he said. "I didn't have an up-to-date listing." Montes said he requested a current listing from the tribal enrollment office, but never recieved one.
Direk Small, a 39-year-old Rocky Boy resident, said, "I guess they said (information about the election) was posted, but they're supposed to notify you by mail."
The results of the election only 175 of the approximately 5,000 eligible voters cast votes have not yet been approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Though the official three-day protest period has passed, the results are now being reviewed by a lawyer in the BIA's regional office in Billings.
"I think they have good grounds to appeal the protest," Montes said today, shortly before the tribal council requested his presence at the standing-room-only tribal council meeting. "I did the best I could to notify people, by using the media, newspapers and word of mouth. Sure, they have a right to be upset. But a lot of them did know" about the election.
Russell Standing Rock and several other members of Grassroots People met with Montes several weeks ago, after some relatives saw an article about the election in the Havre Daily News. During the meeting, they had a conference call with Keith Beartusk, supervisor of the BIA's Billings office.
According to Standing Rock, Beartusk told him "the people had spoken" and that the results were final.
Montes disputed that statement: "Basically what Keith said is they can't protest the results. What they can protest is if the procedures were wrong."
Today, the Grassroots People took Beartusk's advice. During the march, the lead protesters carried two flags one U.S. flag and another representing a Canadian tribe. About 20 percent of the participants were school-age children, whose parents chose to pull them from school for the event.
Midway through their walk, teachers from the Little Cree Center, a local Head Start program, brought 30 of their children out of their building and joined the line of people, prompting a loud cheer. Pearl Whitford, a teacher at the center, said many of the children are dual-enrolled.
"Most of us are from Canada," said 24-year-old protester Byron Potts, who is also enrolled at a Canadian reservation near Edmonton. "I don't know why they would try to do this. That's where we originally came from."
More than a dozen cars joined the procession.
Several Rocky Boy police officers observed the peaceful march from a distance, and one officer stood outside the tribal office as protesters arrived.