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Ho-Chunk attempt president's ouster

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. - For the second time in five years the Ho-Chunk Nation will meet to consider removing its president.

President Jacob Lonetree was elected to the presidency after filling out the unexpired term of Cloris Lowe who was removed from office in 1996. Now, Lonetree is under pressure to either resign or be removed for what his opponents claim are malfeasance and nonfeasance in office. The charges are based on financial records tribal members claim fail to balance, contracts signed without legislative approval, interference with the tribal newspaper and Web site and nepotism.

The petition was presented to Lonetree on Oct. 3 and the Ho-Chunk Legislature called a General Council meeting for Oct 21.

The past two general council meetings were not official because they failed to assemble a quorum. It takes 805 voting-eligible tribal members to constitute a quorum. This time may be different. The Legislature appropriated funding to take care of hardship expenses for people to travel to the nation's convention center at the Ho-Chunk Casino in Wisconsin Dells. Each eligible member will receive $100 after the general council meeting.

"The truth matters. We can move along without unsavory people. If we let them take over we are done," said Gloria Visintin, Ho-Chunk member and lead advocate to remove Lonetree and his administration. Visintin said when Lonetree first ran for office in 1996, she was a big supporter, but has changed her position.

"He made some mistakes. He may be honest, but he made some mistakes," she said. "This is not a personal issue, the will of the people will prevail."

After the first attempt to gather the general council, Lonetree addressed issues brought out, but, Visintin said, he did not go into detail. The last general council attracted only 605 people at the tribe's pow wow grounds. Lonetree did not return phone calls.

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The charges against Lonetree's administration are that an audit by Deloitte and Touche LLP pointed out lack of control over financial reporting by the Ho-Chunk Nation Treasury Department. Other audits of federal and state grant money indicated a lack of disclosure about how the money was spent, they charge.

Visintin said the nation's treasurer is Forest White Rabbit, Lonetree's brother-in-law. Charges against Lonetree stated that he failed to reassign or remove an executive director because he was a relative.

"President Lonetree has demonstrated nonperformance in regard to his duty and responsibility to monitor and to take necessary action in a timely fashion because of nepotism," the charges state.

Other accusations are that Lonetree signed a contract with a company for goods for the nation that were not delivered. Explanations over the incident came from the nation's legal department and from executive directors and the result was that the FBI investigated and charges are pending against the company.

Lonetree is accused of failing to acquire legislative approval for signing contracts. He is also accused of ordering closure of the open forum portion of the nation's Web site which was used by tribal members to voice their opinions.

Other charges indicate Lonetree violated the nation's Policy and Procedures Manual and the Code of Ethics, which is grounds for removal.

Each of the areas that make up the membership of the Ho-Chunk Nation voted to hold the general election. The majority of tribal members do not live near Black River Falls, the nation's headquarters.