Fort Peck tribal leaders voted 7 to 0, with two abstentions, to pass the education committee’s motion to ban actor and Lakota “spiritual leader” Nathan Chasing Horse from the Fort Peck Reservation.
The motion, which alleges human trafficking, drug dealing spiritual abuse and intimidation of tribal members, will stop Chasing Horse from coming onto the reservation and holding a Sundance and ceremonies.
The majority vote was met with disapproval and outbursts from a group of about 10 followers of Chasing Horse, aka Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse and Nathan Chasing His Horses.
Chasing Horse is perhaps best known for his role as “Smiles A Lot” in the movie “Dances With Wolves” but is also known as a medicine man who performs ceremonies in the USA and Canada. He was planning on holding a Sun Dance in Chelsea this month but has moved it to Wyoming, instead.
Councilwoman Roxanne Gourneau said the council, in executive session, previously discussed Chasing Horse with police and prosecutors the past several years. Although they couldn’t discuss publically what was shared in those closed session meetings, it was clear that many authorities and people perceive Chasing Horse as a threat to tribal members, she said.
At last week’s education meeting, supporters of the banishment said there is at least one open investigation of Chasing Horse alleging he committed sexual abuse against one of his young female followers in South Dakota two years ago. But no charges have been filed. Other investigations are also underway, the banishment supporters alleged in the July 6 meeting
“The federal government fell asleep on this but I’m not,” Gourneau said before the vote. “Will I protect our people from that? In a heartbeat,” Gourneau said.
The final vote was seven council members for banishment: Gourneau, Pearl Hopkins, Garrett Big Leggins, Grant Stafne, Terry Rattling Thunder, Dana Buckles and Charles Headdress. Two TEB members abstained from voting: Marva Firemoon and Rick Kirn (Tom Christian, Ed Bauer and Stacey Summers were absent).
After the vote was taken and the audience was leaving the chambers, Chasing Horse supporter Dakota Christian muttered to some of the supporters of the banishment, “All of you will regret this and you will be sorry.” Another supporter said the council was “taking away their prayers.”
Chasing Horse could not be reached for comment. But an attorney representing the actor has threatened the tribal council with a possible lawsuit.
Last week, the Tribal Executive Board’s Education Committee voted in favor of excluding Chasing Horse from the reservation after a group of tribal members packed the Council Chambers to voice concern over Chasing Horse returning to Fort Peck and holding a Sun Dance with his followers in Chelsea.
Worries were mainly safety-related and tribal members told of previous experiences with Chasing Horse, including incidents of alleged sexual abuse, human trafficking, threats to tribal members, intimidation, guns being used to keep tribal members out of ceremonies, and disrespecting the land on and around where the Sundance was previously held in Chelsea.
With the final vote at Monday’s special board meeting, the banishment is now in effect and Chasing Horse could be arrested if he comes onto the reservation.
The vote did not come without resistance and Chairman A.T. Stafne was forced to hammer down the gavel several times to stop outbursts and interruptions by Chasing Horse’s followers.
Before the board voted, Councilwoman Firemoon asked Chairman A.T. Stafne to recognize the supporters. Chairman Stafne said he would only recognize one because it was a meeting of elected officials and the supporters had never come into a committee to voice their opinions.
The group elected to have Fort Kipp elder Jackie Perry speak on their behalf.
Perry said she has known Chasing Horse for 15 years and during that time there was nothing but love shown from him toward her family. He taught them to pray and love and he never charged for ceremonies, she said. Perry said she didn’t know who was saying these things about him but they weren’t true and Chasing Horse would never hurt anyone.
The grandfather spirits come down in ceremonies and talk through Chasing Horse, and their message is that the ones who don’t believe or criticize Chasing Horse are the ones that need prayer.
She went on to compare Chasing Horse to Jesus Christ, saying he was also preaching love and unity and was crucified for his beliefs. “Nathan is a big boy and will handle it in which ever way he does,” Perry told the tribal council.
Lilda Christian, another supporter of Chasing Horse, said they were forced to seek out the actor because there are no legitimate medicine men around the reservation and the local ones have served time in prison for sex crimes.
Even with the council voting to exile Chasing Horse, it is okay because if this is the attitude of the leadership and of people here, then Christian said she wouldn’t want Chasing Horse to come around anyway.
Georgia DeMarrias said the council was violating the followers’ religious freedom rights by banishing Chasing Horse.
Councilman Kirn spoke up against the banishment vote, saying this needed to be done before the courts so formal charges could be filed. If it was determined something was done illegally then he should be put in jail.
By doing banishment orders at the council level, the legislative body of the Tribes are taking on the responsibilities of the courts, he said. The council should not be a court, and he asked if there is a legitimate concern then why were the police never called?
Gourneau said Kirn was wrong about how he views the powers of the Tribal Council. This situation is not about judicial examination, it is about protecting people from a threat, she told him.
The TEB has a reserve power to protect the people, and even though she never met Chasing Horse she said there is a big difference from religious freedom and what is being done by him on the Fort Peck Reservation. Everyone has the right to worship how they want and the TEB is not trying to take that away from anyone, she said. What the council is doing is protecting people from a public threat, Gourneau said.
Tribal leaders are politicians and their lives are expected to have some kind of scandal, but not when it comes to spiritual leaders, Gourneau said. Spiritual leaders should have no scandal surrounding their lives, and they shouldn’t be holding guns at people who want to attend a Sun Dance on their own reservation, she added.
Tribal leaders stated they received something that could be viewed as intimidating threat from an attorney in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, all TEB members received an email from an attorney representing Chasing Horse regarding the voting action taken at the education committee level Monday, July 6.
The email was strongly worded and went as far as asking who voted for this and why did they do it and what was said. It threatened a lawsuit for the banishment action taken.
Under federal law, the Tribes have sovereign immunity, meaning they cannot be sued in federal court without their consent. In state court, there is no jurisdiction over tribal government actions. Tribal Court also has no authority over the TEB, as the council never waived sovereign immunity and cannot be sued in their own court.
This article originally appeared in Fort Peck’s newspaper The Journal on July 9, 2015. Follow the newspaper on Facebook while their website is under construction.