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Contention marks tribal election at Campo Band

CAMPO, Calif. - Challenges to a tribal election here could cancel out an all-female leadership that was elected in April.

The disputed election is delaying the resolution of pressing issues such as the tribal economy, which has been negatively affected by the nationwide economic downturn.

Campo's general council, made up of its adult population of 250, elected seven women to the executive committee April 15. But that action was met with four challenges, said Michael Connolly Miskish, a former committee treasurer of the Campo, a band of the Kumeyaay Nation in eastern San Diego County, and current faculty member at Kumeyaay Community College.

The executive committee, or tribal council, executes policy and resolutions that are passed by the general council.

The top seat was not challenged, however, said Chairman-elect Monique La Chappa, who stands to be the first female chairman in 24 years. The vice chair and three other positions won by women have all been contested for alleged violations of the election procedures by the election committee, she said.

La Chappa, 43, said that although her seat was not being directly contested, she may still have to relinquish it if the election committee decides to scrap the election and hold new ones.

''Candidates felt the election committee did not follow procedures and ordinances properly. But I feel very confident that the election committee will keep us in the council,'' she said.

Specific details about the alleged violations were not made available.

Gender envy is not believed to be motivating the challenges, she said. But she implied the tribe needed a change of leadership and its direction under the current male-dominated tribal council. She said that along with stabilizing the tribal government and developing its economy, education, health care, housing and elder services were lacking.

''That would be something totally different for us. But it doesn't mean that the former tribal council was less intelligent,'' La Chappa said.

Campo women in leadership are not new, especially in more modern times. They have expanded from their traditional roles as domestic laborers during the sh'mulq, the clan system in the pre-Columbus era. Their numbers as leaders increased following the formation of the Campo Reservation in 1893, when its men were often required to work in off-reservation jobs, Connolly said.

Campo women have served as tribal ''spokesmen'' as well. Two women have been elected to the chairman seat since the 1975 establishment of the executive committee following the ratification of Campo's constitution. La Chappa would be its third female chairman.

The contested election has also postponed the discussion on how to develop the tribal economy and keep its gaming operation vibrant in the currently distressed economic atmosphere. Campo's Golden Acorn Casino has been operating since 2001 and is currently experiencing a revenue dip.

That and the disputed election, which has kept La Chappa and her newly elected tribal committee colleagues off the tribal government dais, is creating ''stress and uncertainty'' among the Campo while the election committee sorts out the election, Connolly said.

''We haven't had a challenge to an election in 20 years. Most tribal members can't even remember when the last time there was a challenge,'' he said.

Campo spokesman Racquel Morrison said the election could take up to a month to resolve.