WASHINGTON – While the unelected chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians has announced that she and the seated 2005 council will remain in office without elections until 2011, a BIA official has said the agency will look into the possibility of rescinding an “Opinion Letter” supporting that government, and will encourage them to hold a new election.
Mike Smith, the BIA’s deputy director for operations said he will move forward with efforts to shed light on a May 2007
Interview with Victoria Higgins Seated chief of the Aroostook Band of Micmac Indians
The election has been a source of contention among tribal members and remains clouded, especially following a recently released report from the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
“I think we would like to be proactive and that is taking a look at exactly what’s happened and maybe taking a look at the confusion, if you will, at what happened back in May of 2007, and see if there’s any way that we can assist in clarifying who the leadership is,” Smith said April 27.
Smith’s comments follow a story in ICT [http ://www.indiancountrytoday.com/politics/42800962.html] on the findings in the inspector general’s report.
The investigation was requested by Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe in January 2008 based on allegations from Marilyn Carlton, “who was elected Chief of the Micmacs in their 2007 government election,” the report says.
Carlton and a slate of new council members who won the May 2007 vote were never seated because the election was invalidated by an “Elders Council.”
Carlton alleged that tribal attorney Doug Luckerman had improperly convinced BIA Regional Director Franklin Keel to officially recognize the Elders Council decision to invalidate the 2007 election results, thus allowing the incumbent 2005 tribal government to remain in power. Keel did so in an “Opinion Letter” May 18, 2007, in which he said the BIA would continue to recognize the 2005 chief and council until informed of a change in leadership after a new election that was supposed to take place in July 2007, but never did. No election has been held since then.
The investigation determined that there was no improper relationship between Keel and Luckerman, but found that the Elders Council was 100 percent conflicted – four of the eight people were incumbents who had lost their bids for re-election, and two others were their relations. Of the remaining two, one publicly disliked Carlton and the other said her signature on the invalidation was obtained under false pretenses.
Victoria Higgins, who lost the 2007 election to Carlton, remains in office as chief. Higgins was appointed as chief by former Chief William Phillips in 2006, and re-appointed as chief by the tribal council in the summer of 2007. There is no provision in the tribe’s bylaws for a chief or a council to appoint a successor, the report says.
The May 2007 election dispute has continued since.
An April 5 general meeting scheduled, among other things, to nominate candidates for an election that was to take place in May, failed to gain a quorum of 74 members. During the meeting, 25 tribal members signed a petition asking for another general meeting April 19 “to resolve the May 2007 election dispute” and submitted it to Higgins and the tribal council.
On April 17, Higgins sent a letter to tribal members saying there is no provision in the tribe’s bylaws to call a second nomination meeting and that the tribal council had rejected the petition. There is no provision in the tribe’s bylaws that prohibits a second nomination meeting, however.
“Therefore, it is the contention of the tribal leaders that the current chief and council shall remain in their seats until the next election cycle in 2011,” Higgins wrote. The bylaws state that elections are to take place every two years.
In his testimony to the inspector general’s investigators, Keel said he had no means of investigating any allegations of impropriety concerning the election processes followed and could only rely on information he was given by the incumbent government and “their tribal attorney.”
“Following this review of the seven elders’ conflicts, and the manipulation of the eight elders, Keel was asked what action he believes the BIA should take regarding the matter,” the report says. “Keel stated that if an outside objective fact finder, such as the OIG, issues a report documenting the conflict, BIA ‘may need to take some action.’ According to Keel, BIA would have to consider whether he, as regional director, was misled and ‘defrauded’ by the incumbent government into issuing his ‘opinion letter’ that stated BIA would recognize the Elders Council decision to invalidate the 2007 election,” the report says.
“In understanding that the only affirmative action BIA may be able to take in response to learning the Elders Council that invalidated the May 2007 election was 100 percent conflicted. … is to rescind its opinion letter. .Keel stated that the BIA would consider that option,” the report says. Keel said a decision to rescind the opinion letter would likely need approval from the assistant secretary for Indian affairs and the Office of the Solicitor.
Smith said that option would be part of the discussion.
“I’ll talk to Frank about his statement that he might rescind his opinion letter. I think when he was doing that, he was looking at the chain of command. If there’s something he needs to do that would be required by this office he would consider that, so I’ll talk to him about that,” Smith said. He said the agency will review the tribe’s bylaws again.
“I think we really need to take one more look at exactly what is in the tribe’s bylaws and how they’re interpreting whether or not there’s a need for a new election, because it sounds like there really should be a new election so that people can participate and be satisfied that they have an elected government.”
Although the BIA respects tribal sovereignty and cannot impose its will on the tribe, or force the tribe to hold a new election, Smith said, “We’ll promote that. We’ll do what we can to encourage the tribe to move in that direction.”