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Meskwaki move on, new council members sworn in

MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT, Iowa - Seven new Meskwaki council members will be sworn in this week and officials will conduct an audit of tribal business, moves that could lead to the reopening of the Meskwaki casino closed last spring during a struggle for tribal leadership.

Wayne Pushetonequa, Harvey Davenport Jr. and Homer Bear Jr. were elected in the Oct. 21 vote. All are members of an appointed tribal council that has been fighting for federal recognition since they occupied the tribal center and took over government operations on March 26.

Voters also decided to recall Calvin Johnson, Lyle Walker, Frank Wanatee Jr. and Aaron Walker, the four remaining members of the tribal council ousted in the move. Ousted council chairman Alex Walker Jr. did not run for reelection.

During the first week of November, the tribe will elect and swear-in the four council replacements. All eight candidates, nominated last week by voters, are either members or supporters of the Bear council.

About 70 percent of the Meskwaki electorate voted in the Oct. 21 regular and recall election. Although the BIA officially sanctioned voting at the tribal center, 31 percent of voters cast their ballots at the settlement school. The polling place was set up by the ousted council chaired by Walker, and had a different ballot.

But the irregularities couldn't mask the people's choice of representatives, said BIA Regional Director Larry Moran. Moran's staff tallied the votes several ways before releasing the election results.

"We looked at both sides, we looked at a combination of elections, and no matter how you looked at it, the people [Walker] removed from the ballot essentially got two-thirds of the vote," Moran said

Now that the Meskwaki are on the brink of having its first functional government in nearly a year, observers agree their first item of business should be a reexamination of the constitution - adopted in 1937 and never amended.

"I think their first item of business will be constitutional reform," said spokesman Tom Jochum. "They want to make sure no one can abuse power the way Walker did."

Other tribes should look at their own constitutions to ensure they have recourse against abuses of power, Moran said.

"Many tribes have amended those constitutions to include these checks and balances within their governments," he said. "But certainly I think it would be highly recommended to look back and see what they need to do, to amend to prevent these types of issues."