Little Shell factions reach a shaky deal


The two factions of the Little Shell Chippewa Tribe have agreed to hold special elections in 90 days to determine who should lead the tribe.

In the meantime, John Sinclair of Havre and John Gilbert of Great Falls, the leaders of the warring factions, will jointly lead the tribe, though Sinclair will be the lead person in the effort to win federal recognition for the tribe.

The dissident faction argued that Sinclair's election more than two years ago was suspect because his allies and relatives were involved in the election process and because it was not held in accordance with tribal rules. So, they held separate elections in which Gilbert was elected chair.

Bitter words were exchanged between the two sides for two years, and Gilbert's supporters took control of the tribe's Great Falls headquarters, which Sinclair had closed to save money.

Under the deal arrived at June 25, Sinclair and Gilbert will rule the tribe jointly until the Native American Rights Fund or its designee can set up elections.

But while there is an agreement, the two factions sparred over the weekend about releasing news of the agreement, which was arrived at after mediation in Fort Benton headed by NARF. Sinclair said premature release of the agreement would endanger the deal.

The agreement was announced by Gilbert's side on Saturday, but shortly after reporters received the press release, Gilbert's faction sent out copies of a letter they had received from Sinclair.

"Let me make myself clear," Sinclair wrote to Gilbert, "if there is any media without my consent the deal is off."

"I asked Mr. Raasch (one of the mediators) to relay that message to Mr. Gilbert when I signed the document. If he didn't relay it you'll have to take it up with him," Sinclair said.

In his written response to Sinclair, Gilbert called Sinclair's letter "very disappointing, though not entirely unexpected."

"The Little Shell Chippewa people should not be kept in the dark about the agreement we reached on June 25 in Fort Benton," Gilbert said.

If Sinclair backs out of the agreement, Gilbert said he would notify the rights fund that Sinclair should not represent the tribe in any way.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has rejected the Little Shell Tribe's efforts to win federal recognition, but state lawmakers have introduced legislation to overturn that ruling.

While the sparring over control of the tribe has nothing directly to do with the effort to win federal recognition, both sides agree that the turmoil has not helped the recognition effort.


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