OKLAHOMA CITY - Amid physical confrontations and court proceedings the tribal headquarters of two Oklahoma Indian communities remain occupied by opposing factions.
In the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 19, five women entered the tribal headquarters of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma (KTO) through an unlocked door and barricaded themselves inside using furniture to block the entrances. The women, all enrolled members of the KTO, said their actions were necessary after tribal chairman Tony Salazar refused to leave office despite a Dec. 13 recall election ousting him.
"The system failed us," said Glenda Deer. "We had to take matters into our own hands. We're fighting for our people who are afraid to speak. People have been threatened," Deer said.
On the outside of the building the women hung a banner in the Kickapoo language reading, "We've had enough of this corruption and we want it stopped."
The Kickapoo Tribe election board certified the recall election results on Dec. 24 but Salazar appealed. A tribal judge upheld the certification and recall. Salazar, who has held several positions with the tribe over the years, still refuses to go.
With support from several members of a separate political entity based in Eagle Pass, Texas, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas (KTTT), the women said Salazar held an impromptu election on Dec. 27 at the Kickapoo tribal gym in McCloud where he declared himself the winner and once again tribal chair.
Other allegations include Salazar making a deal to cut himself a percentage of the KTTT Lucky Eagle Casino slot machine revenues, sexual harassment, and widespread corruption. The women said they have seen documents inside the administration building that support their allegations, including phone messages from a Swiss bank and documents of European air travel for Salazar family members at the tribe's expense.
Calls to Salazar from Indian Country Today have gone unanswered.
According to an article in Shawnee News-Star, Salazar denied the allegations and refuses to step down despite the recall election because too many tribal members told him he was needed there.
The women are asking for a federal investigation and intervention by the Justice Department, the FBI or the BIA. They are also asking for legal assistance and say they refuse to leave until the suspicious documents can be handed over to federal authorities. The women did speak with the FBI on the first evening of the takeover.
Several other KTO women have joined the occupation, including elders.
At one point all phone, fax and Internet services to the building were disconnected. One phone line has since been reconnected due to health concerns since some of the women are diabetic and at least one has a heart condition.
In the meantime, supporters of the women continue to come and go bringing medicine, food and cigarettes. The phone rings constantly. Deer said they have received threatening phone calls from Salazar supporters.
"The hardest part is being away from our families, our children. But we're here for as long as it takes," said Deer.
Tribal police remain stationed outside.
Meanwhile another occupation continues near Ponca City in the community of White Eagle where a controversial Dec. 20 election resulted in the occupation of the tribal services building by ousted Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma Chairman Bennett Arkeketa and ousted members of his administration, including Secretary/Treasurer Charlie Primeaux and former tribe Executive Director Sherryl Gonseth, who refuse to recognize election results after two candidates were disqualified for past felony charges.
A group supporting the newly elected Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma Chairman Dwight Buffalohead is occupying tribal headquarters.
Casey Camp-Horinek, chair of the Ponca election board said Arkeketa cancelled the election without following proper procedure and locked the doors to tribal headquarters on Dec. 19, which resulted in the election being held outside in freezing temperatures with record voter turnouts. Buffalohead was voted in as tribal chairman with a margin of 4-1.
At least one physical confrontation ensued between the groups on site and on Dec. 27 at 3 a.m. an armed man was arrested at the Otoe-Missouria trading post near Ponca Tribe headquarters, carrying five loaded weapons, including 22-caliber pistols, a shotgun and two semi-automatic rifles.
According to an Associated Press article, the man claimed he and eight other men were hired by former Ponca Police chief Curtis Johnson and Gonseth to storm the Ponca headquarters building in a pre-dawn raid.
Suzan Chaney of the BIA Anadarko office said the agency has no requirement to certify tribal elections but does occasionally recognize one group over another after scrutiny of election process. Chaney said the tribes have their own court systems and regulations in place to deal with such matters.
Tony Arkeketa, Ponca tribe member and a cousin to the ousted chairman said he is supportive of the election results.
"They were beaten soundly at the polls," said Arkeketa, who has served on election boards in the past. "This board walked through the steps and process as they should have. That's what I was looking for. The election should stand."
The new administration and Ponca election board are in the process of asking the BIA to recognize the election. Supporters of Buffalohead said they would remain in control of tribal headquarters and continue tribal business. Camp said the ousted group is considered trespassers at this point.