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Alleged 'illegal' council suspended Seminole Chief Haney

WEWOKA, Okla. - Citing "serious violations" the Seminole General Council has voted 16-8 to suspend Principal Chief Jerry Haney from his duties with the tribe.

Haney said the "serious violations" weren't spelled out in the June 23 tribal resolution because there aren't any. "They were just looking for anything."

The council has requested that the Office of the Inspector General send representation to the Seminole Nation and review all financial documents that pertained to use of program funds.

Haney says he has no problem with that because he is known for his honesty.

While he was out of town, Haney was suspended immediately, without pay and Assistant Chief James Factor has taken over.

In a letter, Factor said Haney had been removed by suspension until further notice. He is to have no official authority to conduct any business in the name of the Seminole Nation until his suspension is rescinded.

Haney said Factor recently was brought back after being on a part-time basis following earlier problems with the council. "He has animosity against me because I had followed the wishes of the council."

The letter said Haney may utilize services of the nation, but any attempt to conduct executive office business is prohibited. Haney also was ordered to immediately return any tribal equipment and documents in his possession and was asked to cease causing disturbances and disruptions of tribal operations.

Haney attributed a lot of the problems he faces to the fact it is an election year. He said that because of previous actions by the tribal council regarding the Freedmen members of the Seminole Nation, the council that removed him has been labeled an illegal council by the BIA.

Haney said it all started when he requested a review of financial records from the tribe's gaming operations. His requests were met with opposition. Those in charge of the Seminole Nation Development Authority are also members of the council that suspended him.

He said he originally wanted to find out how much money was there and wanted to start using some of it on tribal programs, but he hit a stonewall. "I was trying to get information, but it was from members of the council. They didn't like it."

Soon after, those same members held a meeting and passed a resolution to suspend Haney.

The Seminole casino has been in danger of closing because the tribe hasn't submitted audits for the past two years, which Haney said is very serious.

The "illegal" council's problems all began over a rift over money the Seminole Nation was awarded for services. Once the money was received and before it could be put into programs, a count of tribal members by the enrollment office showed 7,500 members. Once news of the new services became public, membership began to swell and the Seminole Nation decided to enforce a 1/8 blood quantum for members.

"When we saw applications with 1/127 blood quantum, the council decided to take action," Haney said.

The council passed resolutions in the summer of 2000 that put the 1/8 blood quantum for membership in the Seminole Nation and disenfranchised the Freedmen members. Haney said that was what turned the council into an "illegal" one in the eyes of the BIA.

He added that in accordance with the tribal Constitution the resolution should have been sent on to the BIA for approval. Instead sitting council convinced the tribe that because of its sovereign status they didn't have to have BIA approval.

Council actions were reprimanded in a Sept. 29, 2000, letter from then-Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover which advised the nation its council was not a legal one because of the way in which it bypassed the BIA in adopting the resolutions, Haney said.

This in turn stopped pursuit of a minerals claim the nation was trying to get for the Freedmen. Haney said it would have been considerably more than the judgment money appropriated to the tribe by Congress for its American Indian members as payment for lost land.

The council contended the Freedmen weren't landowners. Haney explained that the idea behind the minerals money was to pay the Freedmen off as part of a disenfranchisement agreement between the parties. He said he wasn't certain when attempts to get the minerals money might resume.

"It's an election year ... things get a little hectic about that time," Haney said. "One of the biggest concerns was revenue of our gaming. I inquired into the figures and they gave me some. I asked for something to substantiate those figures and began to push and that was where I got into trouble. What happens is I have no way of knowing, so all I could say was something wasn't right. When I dug more, it got into the political arena."

Haney said he plans to run again for political office in the Seminole Nation in September and believes that with the silent majority behind him he will once again be elected as the chief. "If not then it is the voice of the people."