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New Oglala council sees mandate for change

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - A cold day failed to chill spirits as 200 well wishers gathered in the local Billy Mills Hall for the swearing in of their new tribal council.

The Dec. 6 proceeding began at 10 a.m. when Chief Judge Patrick Lee administered oaths of office to the 18 tribal council members. Only two members from the previous council were returned to office in the Nov. 7 election. They are Craig Dillon of Lacreek District, and Marlin "Moon" Weston of Porcupine District.

Following the swearing in, new Tribal Chairman John Yellow Bird Steele called the 18 to order and requested approval of a list of agenda items. Heading the list was the constitutional duty to select the remaining officers for the Steele administration. These offices are secretary, treasurer, and fifth member. The chairman and vice chairman were chosen by direct vote.

Citing a need for greater openness, Wakpamni District Councilman Tom Conroy Jr. moved that the vote for these offices be made by a show of hands. In the past, voting for these offices took place by secret ballot. Conroy's motion passed 17 to 1.

Secretary was voted on first, with Donna Salomon of Pass Creek getting the nod from a group of six candidates. Salomon received 12 votes in a runoff with second place vote getter Pauletta Red Willow of Eagle Nest District. Red Willow garnered 6 votes.

Before voting for treasurer, first-time Councilman Lyle Jack of Pine Ridge Village moved to have Wesley Jacobs, one of eight candidates for the office, disqualified. Jacobs was tribal treasurer in the previous administration. Citing a tribal ordinance that requires tribal treasurers to file regular written financial reports to the council, Jack argued that Jacobs had failed to do this. Jack also read a provision in the ordinance that said such failure could disqualify an individual from holding future tribal office. Jack's motion was seconded by Conroy and passed 18 to 0.

David Rabbit of Pass Creek received a majority of the council votes for treasurer with 10 on the first ballot. This negated the need for a runoff. Rabbit was one of two candidates who had not previously held the office. Council soon adjourned for the day following the vote for treasurer.

On day two, respected elder and past tribal chairman Johnson Holy Rock was elected fifth member to complete the new executive committee for the Steele administration. Holy Rock was selected on the strength of his treaty experience and knowledge of tribal law.

The need for change was the most repeated phrase of the day, expressed most strongly by BIA superintendent Bob Ecoffey who told the council, "You are that change."

Despite the hope expressed by Ecoffey's welcome, heading the list of council problems going into 2001 are concerns about tribal finances.