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No ‘equal justice’

I’m an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in north central Montana. As a committee member of three local organizations, I attended many community meetings to hear the concerns of our enrolled members. Tribal court bias, cronyism and abuse of tribal council power were openly aired at those meetings. To try and correct these wrongs, I filed to run for one of the four vacant seats of the CCT Business Committee for the 2010-2014 term; I met all qualifications. A tribal primary and election was scheduled for Oct. 5; 2010 and the general election was scheduled for Nov. 2, 2010.

On Oct. 10, I filed a protest of the primary election asserting that a successful candidate in the primary was unqualified or ineligible to run for council in violation of our Constitution and Election Ordinance. Article IV § 2 (d) denies convicted felons eligibility to serve on the council or run until five years after completion of their penalty. The Election Board has never provided documentation that his criminal conviction and other penalties imposed upon him were appealed and reversed by the Montana Supreme Court.

On Oct. 12, the Election Board ruled that the candidate was eligible and rendered my protest null and void. The board said the charges by the State of Montana against the candidate had been dismissed and thereby the candidate in question was never convicted. Following receipt of that letter, we filed a Request for Declaratory Relief and Request for Restraining Order, Injunction, and Emergency Hearing on Oct. 28. Motions to dismiss these were filed by their attorneys on Oct. 29. The Chief Judge issued his order dismissing the case Nov. 1. Our attorney never received his copy until Nov. 2, 2010. The Chief Judge who ruled on our case is the blood nephew of that same council candidate. In virtually all judicial codes of ethics, this would require immediate recusal.

We submitted our Appellate Brief of the Chief Judge’s Order of Dismissal Dec. 15. The Chief Appellate Court Judge dismissed the Chief Judge’s dismissal Dec. 20. The attorneys of both parties met Dec. 22 to discuss the dismissal. The appellate judge was concerned about the appearance of impropriety issue of the Chief Judge, but will not rule on any issues until the CCT files its brief and the Plaintiffs get a chance to reply. The judge was also concerned about how this may affect the Tribal Court’s reputation but would not pre-judge how she will rule. The Appellee’s brief is due Jan. 17.

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A new sign was erected to direct people to the Chippewa Cree Tribal Courts. I believe the wording “equal justice to all” should be removed from the sign until this becomes a reality and not a farce to the Chippewa Cree Tribe.

– Stacey R. Small

CCT Security Officer

Chippewa Cree Tribe