PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Despite allegations of corruption in recent years, eligible voters of the Oglala Sioux Tribe sent a decisive message that they think their last two tribal chairmen are worthy of the tribe's top job.
In an election that saw a record number of people run for reservationwide and district offices, past Tribal President John Yellow Bird Steele was the leading vote getter for president in the Oct. 3 primary election with 720 votes. Current suspended Chairman Harold Salway came in a close second with 642 votes. Making a strong showing in his first bid for the top job was former councilman Harvey White Woman, in third with 508 votes.
Yellow Bird Steele will be pitted against Salway in the Nov. 7 general election. No clear favorite has yet emerged. Fourteen people were on the primary ballot for president. Tribal Treasurer Wesley Chuck Jacobs, placed his name in contention. He is at the center of the controversy surrounding the Jan. 19 takeover of the tribal Red Cloud Building by the Grass Roots Oyate. Jacobs' removal from office was one of the groups demands.
The race for vice president became a wash early on with former tribal secretary Theresa Two Bulls garnering 1,000 votes more than her closest competitor. Two Bulls garnered 1,498 votes while second-place finisher Tom Poor Bear pulled in 523. Close followers of tribal politics say Poor Bear's relatively strong showing was in recognition of his leadership in the fight to resolve the deaths of two Pine Ridge men near White Clay, Neb., a little more than a year ago.
Poor Bear and Two Bulls will face each other in the general election. Two Bulls narrowly missed election to that position in 1998.
Overall, the races for tribal council brought forth no discernible pattern of either seeking a fresh start or endorsing the present council with about as many still in the running as those who did not qualify for the run-off.
Not be returning are Blaine Little Thunder of Eagle Nest District, Floyd Brings Plenty of Oglala District, Phillip Good Crow of Porcupine District and Pete Richards of Pass Creek District.
Pine Ridge Village councilman Gerald Big Crow opted to run for vice president where he placed fifth. Big Crow was served with a federal indictment that claims he owes $57,000 in unpaid rent to the Oglala Housing Authority. Wakpamni Councilman Robert Red Owl also chose to run for vice president, but did not make it on the ballot. Mike Her Many Horses chose not to seek re-election in the Wounded Knee District and Medicine Root Councilman Manuel Fool Head was not allowed on the ballot in Medicine Root District because of residency requirements.
Current council members still in the running are Craig Dillon of LaCreek, Emmitt Kelly of Wounded Knee District, Ruth Brown of Eagle Nest District, Maxine Lakota of Wakpamni District, Paul Little of Oglala District, Marlin "Moon" Weston of Porcupine District, Taylor Little White Man of Medicine Root District and G. Wayne Tapio of Pine Ridge Village. Weston faces charges of non-payment of funds to the Oglala Housing Authority. If convicted, it would be a federal felony.
Many former members appear to be staging potential council comebacks. Former members who made the Nov. 7 ballot include Eileen Janis, Frank "Popo" Means, David Pourier, Charles White Elk, Alex White Plume, Jim Meeks and Tom Conroy.
Besides the impressive showing by Theresa Two Bulls, who received more votes for vice president than the two top vote getters for president combined, newcomer Lyle Jack of Pine Ridge Village led all candidates with 248 votes. Second place went to present councilman Gary Janis with 188 votes. Eighteen-year councilman G. Wayne Tapio came in third with 173 votes.
With a total of 3,882 total votes cast, election turnout, despite cold and rainy weather conditions, was considered to be fairly heavy, officials said. Of the total vote, as of press time, 3,526 votes were considered unchallenged, with 356 being challenged for various reasons - 125 of them cast in Pine Ridge Village.
Tribal election chairwoman Melanie Janis said she was pleased, not only with the voter turnout, but with how smooth the election went. Tribal election monitors were present at all 22 voter precincts with no reported incidents.