By Tim Leeds
Although voters cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of returning administration of some programs on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to the federal government, the tribe will probably continue to administer them, tribal council member Walter Horn said today.
The votes cast fell short of the number needed to make the referendum binding on the council.
"I'm kind of disappointed, myself," said Horn, who with council member Raymond Chandler had proposed the referendum on behalf of a coalition of residents.
If successful, the referendum Tuesday would have rescinded a May decision to have the tribal government administer seven programs that had been run by the federal government. The tribe was already administering 35 federal programs when it passed the resolution in May to add the additional programs.
Tribal members on and off the reservation voted 81 percent in favor of rescinding the resolution, but missed the minimum number of votes needed to make the vote binding by 380.
The count of votes was 858 in favor of rescinding and 198 against, for a total of 1,056. A total of 1,436 voters would have had to participate in the election to make the referendum binding.
Horn said he proposed the referendum because of the lack of community involvement in the vote on the May resolution, because he didn't see any long-range planning for managing the programs, and because the community said it opposed the resolution.
"I never saw a long-range plan, and the community voiced their concern," he said. "I thought that as elected officials we should listen to our constituents."
Ben Speakthunder and Darrell Martin, chair and vice chair of the council, were not available for comment this morning.
Members of the tribe formed a coalition after the resolution passed. Selena Ditmar, one of the organizers of the coalition, said it was created to express concern about the lack of time tribal officials had to learn to run the programs and because of the lack of community involvement in the decision.
The tribe took over the administration of some of the seven programs in October, and the remainder at the beginning of November.
Ditmar said she was very happy with the number of people who voted.
"We feel very good about the turnout. We didn't expect the 1,436 to vote," she said. "We feel that we really didn't lose. The people turned out to vote."
She added that the council members should consider the message the people sent in their overwhelming support of the referendum.
"I think the people sent a clear message even though we didn't get the number we needed," she said.
Horn said he doesn't know of any serious problems caused by the tribal government taking over the program administration, but it's too early to say if problems will arise.
"I guess that remains to be seen," he said.
Ditmar said some members of the tribe have reported delays in getting checks they normally have received by this time because of the transition.
The coalition formed to oppose the council's May decision is going to continue bringing concerns on the reservation to the council.
"We're not going to disband. We're going to stay together. We have other issues the council needs to address," she said.
Ditmar said the coalition held a planning meeting Sunday, and intends to invite the council to a meeting next Sunday so the people who voted in favor of the referendum can discuss the results with the council.