By Tim Eberly
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has rejected the results of a recent secretarial election that have been protested at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The Rocky Mountain regional office of the BIA in Billings declined last Thursday to forward the results to Washington, D.C., because of procedural violations.
James Montes, the BIA field representative at Rocky Boy, received a letter informing him of the decision on Saturday.
"Based on the questionable procedures and the fact that the tribe asked us to reverse it, we decided to pull it off the table," Keith Beartusk, the BIA's region director, said today.
The Chippewa Cree tribal council on April 11 passed a resolution asking the BIA to declare the election results null and void. The council voted after a group called the Chippewa Cree Grassroots People held a protest march.
"It's wonderful news," said Russell Standing Rock, spokesman for the group. "I'm sure a lot of these people will feel at ease."
A new election will be held if two-thirds of the tribe's eligible voters sign a petition or if the tribal council passes a resolution.
The Grassroots People said the election was flawed because the BIA failed to notify all eligible voters by mail of the election, which is required by federal regulations.
Montes said he agreed with the decision by the Billings BIA office.
"Legally, I think it was a correct call because I didn't notify all the people by mail," Montes said today. "Personally, I feel I tried the best I could to notify (eligible voters) through the media."
Four amendments were passed in Rocky Boy's first constitutional revision since 1972. The most controversial said that members of the Chippewa Cree Tribe would lose enrollment status if they were enrolled in any other tribes in the United States or Canada. The amendment passed by a 123-52 vote.
According to the Grassroots People, a good portion of the tribe's 5,000 members are enrolled at other reservations. Only 175 residents voted in the election.
Montes has said he didn't do a mailing because he doesn't have current enrollment information and couldn't get it from the tribe.
Florencine Stump, the only employee in the tribal enrollment office, said Montes never asked her for an updated list. She said it's Montes who provides her with enrollment information.
Montes said today that he hasn't updated enrollment lists in three years.
Recently, the Grassroots People met in Great Falls with residents of four other Indian reservations in Montana to discuss filing a class-action lawsuit against the BIA regarding secretarial elections.
The BIA's decision to nullify Rocky Boy's election will not stop the lawsuit, Standing Rock said.
"Our reaction now is we're grouping," he said. "We're still going after the BIA for their violations."