By Tim Eberly
The marchers took the bald eagle circling over them as a sign that they would prevail in their protest Thursday of a recent secretarial election at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The group, which calls itself the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People, got what it came for. After a quarter-mile march in protest of the March 6 election, the 150 or so Rocky Boy residents crammed into the Chippewa Cree tribal council meeting room to ask that a resolution be passed to rescind the results of the election.
By a 7-0 vote one council member was absent and another, Duncan Standing Rock, abstained the tribal council voted to ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make the election null and void, Russell Standing Rock said.
"The elders last night couldn't stop talking about (the eagle)," said Standing Rock, spokesman for the Grassroots People. "It was circling us before we started the march. That was a good sign."
Tribal attorney Dan Belcourt said the tribal council, when it originally approved the amendments to be placed on the ballot, hadn't intended to harm anyone.
"I think after hearing some of the procedural deficiencies, the council decided that, yes, there were some real problems here," Belcourt said.
Voters in March adopted four amendments to the tribe's constitution, which had not been amended since 1972. The amendment that spurred the protest addressed the issue of dual enrollment official membership in two different tribes. The revision said tribal members would lose their enrollment at Rocky Boy if they were enrolled with another tribe in the United States or Canada. The constitution previously hadn't specified that the ban on dual enrollment included Canada.
The Grassroots People, most of whom are also enrolled members of a Canadian tribe, said the BIA failed to follow federal regulations while conducting the election.
"There's a certain protocol you have to follow to have a BIA election and they didn't follow that," said Russell Standing Rock.
James Montes, the BIA field representative at Rocky Boy, said he didn't follow the requirement to send a notice of the election by mail to all tribal members because his list of members is outdated.
Montes spread word of the election through local media and by posting letters at about 10 sites on the reservation.
Only 175 of the approximately 5,000 eligible voters cast ballots in the election.
The official three-day protest period for the election has already passed, and the BIA has the right to refuse the tribe's resolution, Montes said today.
"There was a lot of celebration but it's not over," Standing Rock said.
On Thursday evening, 81 members of Grassroots People met to discuss future plans. If the BIA proceeds with the election, the protesters are considering filing a lawsuit against the BIA, Standing Rock said.