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Ex-president Fire Thunder on the offensive

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ The ousted and battle-weary president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cecelia Fire Thunder, is not lying down and giving up: she is fighting her impeachment in court and claims she is still president.

Fire Thunder filed for relief in tribal court in early July and was given her job back on July 17, only to be told it was again taken away by the same judge that same day.

She spent four hours on the job after she was impeached for contemplating building a womenís wellness center on the Pine Ridge Reservation that adversaries claim was to be an abortion clinic.

A tribal court hearing was scheduled to hear Fire Thunderís complaint against the tribal council, and then canceled when Chief Tribal Judge Lisa Adams recused herself and ordered that a new judge be appointed and a new hearing date set. No date has been set as of press time.

At a July 28 press conference, Fire Thunder ñ the day her canceled hearing was to be held ñ said Adams was pressured to recuse herself under threats of job security. She had not spoken with witnesses that said any threats occurred, but said she could find some.

ìWe know that goes on; it is a common practice to influence a judge,î she said. The alleged threats would have come from the tribal council or judiciary committee. The tribal council appoints all tribal judges.

Alex White Plume, Oglala Lakota president, the former vice president, said he was not aware that any decisions had been made to appoint a hearing judge or a new hearing date for Fire Thunder.

The complaint filed by Fire Thunder is against the tribal council ñ the body that impeached her and the same body that will appoint a new judge and hearing date. Fire Thunder said she believed the council will try to drag the issue out so a hearing may not be held before the elections in November.

Fire Thunder said she filed an order with the Tribal Supreme Court to expedite the situation and appeal to regain her position.

ìI encourage the people to ask how this has gotten so out of hand. This is now about the separation of powers,î Fire Thunder said.

ìI am asking the people to ask for a separation of powers. The council interferes with the court. We must ask for accountability,î she said.

Fire Thunder said the disarray within the government has affected outside interests that may have been negotiating on business investments on the reservation. A reliable source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that negotiations for a business in the million-dollar range were halted after the shake-up with tribal government.

Fire Thunderís mission is to hold the tribal council accountable for not abiding by the tribal constitution and bylaws. She said her rights were violated from the very beginning of the process. A motion to impeach made at a regular meeting was out of order because a complaint must be filed first; the complaint was filed after the motion was approved, she argues. She claims the motion should not have been accepted by then-Vice President Alex White Plume.

She did not receive documented evidence against her until the day of her impeachment hearing, June 29, she insists. Fire Thunder and her attorneys also maintain that a two-thirds majority of the entire council is required to impeach a sitting president and not a two-thirds majority of those present, as happened.

Three council members were absent and one was not recognized by the tribal secretary at the time of the vote. The two council members who brought the complaint forward participated in the negotiation process and also voted, which Fire Thunder said was ìa violation of tribal law.î

ìThey violated the tribal constitution, they violated my rights; do they know what they are doing?î

Fire Thunder said there were people on Pine Ridge who supported her, and that it was just a handful of people who worked for her ouster that used the abortion issue and illegal tactics.

Fire Thunder joined a group of people in South Dakota to oppose the nationís most extreme abortion ban and she said she would continue to fight the ban, which will be included on the South Dakota November ballot.

As for the clinic she proposed, Fire Thunder said she is not involved with the clinic and that a board of directors is furthering that project, called Sacred Choices Clinic.

While the reason for her ouster was allegedly centered on womenís issues and the right to choose, she has not softened her stand. She said that she still advocates supporting a woman and standing by her in whatever choice the woman makes about her body.

ìIím a woman and my job is to support a womanís decision: why is that so hard to accept?î she said. She said any decision is between the woman, God and the spirit of her child.

ìI didnít know God put others in charge to do his job.î

Two previous attempts to remove her from office have been made, and both times she prevailed. She said the other two attempts followed legal protocol.

On a positive note, she said that for the first time in recent memory, a tribal judge overturned council action when she was ordered back to work, even though that order lasted only a few hours.

With all of the turmoil around Fire Thunderís life, she never thought about not fighting the impeachment proceeding and just waiting until the next election. She said the important issue is to hold the tribal council accountable to the law.

Fire Thunder said she will run for re-election. Her most likely opponents will be current Councilman Will Peters, her most outspoken adversary and the lead complainant in her impeachment, and White Plume, the current president. Although White Plume said he would speak with his tiospaye or extended family, it was likely that he would run.

RAPID CITY, S.D. ñ The ousted and battle-weary president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cecelia Fire Thunder, is not lying down and giving up: she is fighting her impeachment in court and claims she is still president.Fire Thunder filed for relief in tribal court in early July and was given her job back on July 17, only to be told it was again taken away by the same judge that same day.She spent four hours on the job after she was impeached for contemplating building a womenís wellness center on the Pine Ridge Reservation that adversaries claim was to be an abortion clinic.A tribal court hearing was scheduled to hear Fire Thunderís complaint against the tribal council, and then canceled when Chief Tribal Judge Lisa Adams recused herself and ordered that a new judge be appointed and a new hearing date set. No date has been set as of press time.At a July 28 press conference, Fire Thunder ñ the day her canceled hearing was to be held ñ said Adams was pressured to recuse herself under threats of job security. She had not spoken with witnesses that said any threats occurred, but said she could find some.ìWe know that goes on; it is a common practice to influence a judge,î she said. The alleged threats would have come from the tribal council or judiciary committee. The tribal council appoints all tribal judges.Alex White Plume, Oglala Lakota president, the former vice president, said he was not aware that any decisions had been made to appoint a hearing judge or a new hearing date for Fire Thunder.The complaint filed by Fire Thunder is against the tribal council ñ the body that impeached her and the same body that will appoint a new judge and hearing date. Fire Thunder said she believed the council will try to drag the issue out so a hearing may not be held before the elections in November.Fire Thunder said she filed an order with the Tribal Supreme Court to expedite the situation and appeal to regain her position.ìI encourage the people to ask how this has gotten so out of hand. This is now about the separation of powers,î Fire Thunder said.ìI am asking the people to ask for a separation of powers. The council interferes with the court. We must ask for accountability,î she said.Fire Thunder said the disarray within the government has affected outside interests that may have been negotiating on business investments on the reservation. A reliable source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that negotiations for a business in the million-dollar range were halted after the shake-up with tribal government.Fire Thunderís mission is to hold the tribal council accountable for not abiding by the tribal constitution and bylaws. She said her rights were violated from the very beginning of the process. A motion to impeach made at a regular meeting was out of order because a complaint must be filed first; the complaint was filed after the motion was approved, she argues. She claims the motion should not have been accepted by then-Vice President Alex White Plume.She did not receive documented evidence against her until the day of her impeachment hearing, June 29, she insists. Fire Thunder and her attorneys also maintain that a two-thirds majority of the entire council is required to impeach a sitting president and not a two-thirds majority of those present, as happened.Three council members were absent and one was not recognized by the tribal secretary at the time of the vote. The two council members who brought the complaint forward participated in the negotiation process and also voted, which Fire Thunder said was ìa violation of tribal law.îìThey violated the tribal constitution, they violated my rights; do they know what they are doing?îFire Thunder said there were people on Pine Ridge who supported her, and that it was just a handful of people who worked for her ouster that used the abortion issue and illegal tactics.Fire Thunder joined a group of people in South Dakota to oppose the nationís most extreme abortion ban and she said she would continue to fight the ban, which will be included on the South Dakota November ballot.As for the clinic she proposed, Fire Thunder said she is not involved with the clinic and that a board of directors is furthering that project, called Sacred Choices Clinic.While the reason for her ouster was allegedly centered on womenís issues and the right to choose, she has not softened her stand. She said that she still advocates supporting a woman and standing by her in whatever choice the woman makes about her body.ìIím a woman and my job is to support a womanís decision: why is that so hard to accept?î she said. She said any decision is between the woman, God and the spirit of her child.ìI didnít know God put others in charge to do his job.îTwo previous attempts to remove her from office have been made, and both times she prevailed. She said the other two attempts followed legal protocol.On a positive note, she said that for the first time in recent memory, a tribal judge overturned council action when she was ordered back to work, even though that order lasted only a few hours.With all of the turmoil around Fire Thunderís life, she never thought about not fighting the impeachment proceeding and just waiting until the next election. She said the important issue is to hold the tribal council accountable to the law.Fire Thunder said she will run for re-election. Her most likely opponents will be current Councilman Will Peters, her most outspoken adversary and the lead complainant in her impeachment, and White Plume, the current president. Although White Plume said he would speak with his tiospaye or extended family, it was likely that he would run.