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Judge writes opinion about RB election


Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily News/[email protected]

The results of last week's secretarial election at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation are official after the three-day protest period expired Monday afternoon.

But the BIA field officer who administered the election said the BIA's regional director could still decide to throw out the election results after Chippewa Cree Tribal Court Chief Judge Gilbert Belgarde submitted a legal opinion about the election Monday.

"I would think (the election) would stand," BIA field officer James Montes said today. "I hope it would stand, but then again you never know."

The Jan. 6 election, which was administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, asked Rocky Boy voters to make several changes to the Chippewa Cree Tribe's constitution and bylaws.

One of the amendments approved by voters enables the tribal council to appoint the chief tribal judge and two associate judges. Those judges have previously been elected to four-year terms.

Before the election, Belgarde said he believed the tribal council would replace him if the amendment passed. After it passed, he said he was considering requesting a buyout from the council for the rest of his term and stepping down. Belgarde's term expires in November.

Belgarde would not disclose details of his opinion Monday. He said he planned to send a copy to the BIA regional office, to Montes and to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton.

"I didn't want to halt (the election) outright," Belgarde said Monday. "It's just my opinion." He would not disclose what was in the opinion until Montes and Keith Beartusk, the BIA regional director in Billings, had a chance to review it.

"There is still a balance of power, and that is the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court," he added.

Montes said today that Belgarde brought him a copy of the opinion Monday afternoon. He said Belgarde told him it was not a protest.

Montes would not comment on the opinion. He said he is in the process of reviewing it, and will write a response to send to Beartusk, along with the official election results later this week.

"He made some allegations in there that I would like to respond to," Montes said.

Beartusk was out of the office today and was not available for comment.

Michael Black, deputy director of the Rocky Mountain region of the BIA, said Beartusk will decide whether the election will stand. From there it will go on to the Secretary of the Interior for final approval.

"As long as the procedural requirements are met, it's signed off by the secretary," Black said.


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