RAPID CITY, S.D. – The year 2006 will be remembered by many as the year in which popular tribal leaders were turned out to pasture, and remembered by others as a time to change – again.
Great Plains tribes have a reputation of changing leadership nearly every election cycle, whether it be two years or four. The year, witnessed the changing of the guard in regularity and some changes that surprised people.
National figure Tex Hall lost his bid to serve the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation for another four year term. He would have been elected to three consecutive terms, something no other MHA Nation chairman had ever done. He was the only chairman of the MHA Nation to serve two consecutive terms.
Hall was also a two-term president of the National Congress of American Indians; he is currently chairman of the United Tribes of North Dakota and executive director of the Intertribal Economic Alliance. Hall was a frequent figure in Washington, D.C., testifying at congressional hearings on topics ranging from trust reform to education, health and housing.
Hall was defeated by Marcus Wells Jr., a former tribal business council member. Wells pledged to continue some of the programs started by Hall, such as a new clinic and hospital, as well as land transfers from the Garrison Dam project that inundated much of the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Wells, however, is cool to the idea of an oil and gas refinery, an idea forwarded by Hall, and to a rewrite of the tribal constitution as was proposed during the Hall administration.
Hall was criticized by many in the MHA Nation who felt that he spent too much time off the reservation.
Hall filed an appeal to the tribal election board claiming that Wells violated election rules by offering incentives for votes. Because of lack of documentation, the election board was unable to determine whether Hall’s claim of voter manipulation had occurred. The complaint stressed the alleged purchase of votes with vouchers from the tribally owned Four Bears Casino in support of Wells. The charges were dismissed by the tribal elections board.
Hall then filed a complaint in tribal court, which is pending.
<b>Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe</b>
Harold Frazier, the young, popular chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, lost his bid for re-election to Joseph Brings Plenty in 2006.
Frazier was a well-known and respected leader among the Plains tribes. He served as chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and as chairman of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board. Frazier also competed in rodeo events.
Frazier was an outspoken critic of the IHS for what he and other tribal leaders called inadequate health care; he also criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its handling of Missouri River management, which left the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe nearly high and dry when an intake pipe on the Missouri River became exposed due to the river’s low water levels.
Frazier also criticized the BIA for its handling of trust funds and he supported a settlement to the Cobell v. Kempthorne case.
During Frazier’s administration, a moratorium on nursing home facilities was waived by the state to construct a home on the Cheyenne River Reservation as a pilot for possible expansion to other reservations.
<b>Oglala Sioux Tribe</b>
One of the most confusing and watched election cycles for a nation started five months before the Nov. 7, 2006, general election. In August, former President Cecelia Fire Thunder, the first women ever elected to lead the Oglala Sioux Tribe, was impeached, allegedly for her stand on women’s rights: specifically a woman’s right to choose. The tribal council impeached her, as she argues, illegally. In her place, the council elevated Alex White Plume, then vice president, to the president’s chair, and chose Eileen Janis to be the non-elected vice president.
In October, the primary election results found White Plume the top vote-getter for president, John Steele, second; and Fire Thunder, third. At that time, Fire Thunder was out of the running to regain her old post. Only two candidates survive the primary.
Six days before the general election, the tribal election board removed White Plume from the ballot, based on evidence uncovered from a background check that indicated he was convicted of a felony in the early 1980s – a conviction, White Plume said, that he thought was cleared. White Plume appealed to the tribal election court of appeals. That court ruled a new election should be held, and the tribal council decided to continue with the election.
After the general election, White Plume, as president, declared the primary election null and void, and ordered a new election process. John Steele was elected to serve his fifth term in office. He and the newly elected tribal council took the oath of office on Dec. 5, as stated in the constitution.
White Plume attempted to extend his term in office until a new election was held, yet the new tribal council argued that White Plume acted outside the scope of his authority and declared his actions illegal.
At the end of the year, White Plume argued that he was still the president. Steele also contends he is president and is assuming the day-to-day business of running the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
The entire matter was not taken to tribal court to sort out, and accusations of illegal activity over the matter are frequent.
The OST constitution does not offer language that deals with the extension of a president’s term in office, and therefore the Steele administration stands by the argument that since a two-year term for the past administration expired on Dec. 5, he is rightfully the president.
<b>Rosebud Sioux Tribe</b>
President Charles Colombe, well-known nationally for his knowledge of economic issues, lost his bid for re-election to the young Rodney Bordeaux. The tribal council also has some new faces. Colombe has been in tribal politics and business for decades and owns the company that managed the Rosebud Casino. Bordeaux rose to the presidency from the tribal council.