Former Kickapoo attorney saddened by continuing upheaval

HORTON, Kan. - An attorney for the Kickapoo Tribe of Kansas said he is embarrassed by action of tribal council members who don't like having their actions examined.

"I'm disgusted, embarrassed by the actions of the tribal council members," said Ralph Simon, who was removed by the council for what was termed a lack of funds.

"It's a shame what they've done. The tribe has a lot of problems it needs to address. You can't sweep it under the rug like they are trying to do.

"They don't like people picking the rug up and peeking underneath it." Simon said of the present Kickapoo tribal council in an interview.

Simon reacted to the removal of Tribal Chairman Steve Cadue and Vice-Chairwoman Thelma Simon from the council following a battle between members.

Cadue and Ms. Simon maintain the present tribal council acted illegally when it removed Jimmy Cisneros from his job as tribal treasurer and requested the resignations of the council members.

The same day in January, those council members went to court to temporarily remove the chairman and vice chairwoman. Since then the factions have waged a battle of words and litigation, resulting in the complete removal of both Cadue and Thelma Simon on May 5 by Kickapoo District court judge Peter Beekman.

Beekman cited their violation of court orders that directed them to stop representing themselves as council leaders.

Both had written letters to the President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno requesting federal intervention and investigations of what they believed were illegal acts by the present Kickapoo tribal council.

Simon questioned Judge Beekman deciding the case after he had removed himself in December 1999, citing conflict of interest in matters regarding tribal council members.

"Whether the conflict of interest is real or perceived, I can't understand why it's OK in one case and not OK in another when it involves the same tribal council members. I guess that's certainly a question in my mind." Simon said.

The present Kickapoo Tribal Council plans to appoint new members to replace Cadue and Simon which would mean three members of the council would not have elected by the general membership.

"This is horrendous," Cadue said about the legal removal. "It sends a tremendously negative message to all those Kickapoo people who are trying to get a good education and work for the Kickapoo tribe. This goes totally against what the tribe has been doing for years."

Attorney Simon agreed, but sees a need for the tribe to look closely at its constitution and decide if changes are needed. That document was described by Simon as an old-fashioned boilerplate constitution and said it may not be meeting the needs of the present-day Kickapoo Nation.

Asked if he thought there would be changes to the Kickapoo constitution, Simon said, "I hope so. When you have these kinds of problems and people don't follow the constitution,that may indicate that the constitution isn't appropriate for the circumstances."

Simon said before his removal he saw the need for mediation to end the inner conflict on the tribal council which might have prevented the chain of events that followed. He said he attempted to get help from the BIA during the early days of the disagreement over Cisneros' removal from office.

"I asked the bureau for some assistance before this whole thing blew up, but they basically told me there is nothing out there to give them any guidance. That is typical bureau response in my opinion."

Simon said he saw a BIA draft document from a 1999 line officer's meeting which dealt with solving inner tribal conflicts. It said one of the first actions when problems like the one at Kickapoo nation start, the BIA needs to step in and work as the mediator.

"I saw that and tried to pursue it, but they (BIA) just weren't interested" Simon said, adding he can only assume the draft has never been made policy, but doesn't understand the BIA stand on having nothing to give them guidance.

Ralph Simon was fired in February after the dispute between Cadue and Ms. Simon escalated. The reason he was given by the present tribal council was a lack of funds. However, following his removal, another attorney was hired by the tribal council.

Simon, admitting he was scarred and disillusioned but wiser, went to work as an attorney for the Potawatomi Tribe.