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Prairie Band of Potawatomi Chairwoman Rupnicki resigns

MAYETTA, Kan. - Prairie Band Potawatomi Chairwoman Mamie Rupnicki, under fire since August, listened to the charges brought against her, read a prepared statement to the tribal council and general council members, and in a surprise move, announced she was resigning.

The resignation was unexpected and many had expected a heated debate as Rupnicki defended herself.

The seven-member tribal council called the Oct. 7 meeting a "hearing about the possible removal" of Rupnicki. Many close to the council expected a heated debate because they believed she would defend herself against the charges and were surprised when she resigned.

Earlier she told The Associated Press, "These people are hell bent on getting rid of me, regardless of the consequences our people will face in the long run. And the tribal council is helping them do it. The charges against me are not morally or legally sustainable."

Her resignation ended months of speculation and conflict between tribal members and Rupnicki. Council members alleged she used her power to accelerate a tribal court case involving her son, incurred unauthorized travel expenses, intimidated and abused tribal employees and tried to improperly impede a recall petition against her.

Rupnicki said, however, that her critics had no evidence of wrongdoing.

Steve Ortiz, tribal council secretary, said that Rupnicki was read the charges and then read from a prepared statement to the tribal council and the other 200 general council members. "If it's the will of the Tribal Council to go through with this, then I will save you the trouble... ," Rupnicki said.

"What finally happened was that Saturday, the tribal council went ahead and held their meeting," Ortiz said. "I don't know what the count was, but there were over 200 there. The bingo hall was packed.

"The tribal council read the charges and then Mamie was offered a chance to respond back to them. She responded back in a 35-minute speech about the whole situation and a letter from her son John about that incident.

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"At the end of her speech, we were quite surprised. She tendered her resignation and said if that was going to be the will of tribal council she would resign.

"She verbally gave us her resignation and later followed it up with a letter. We voted to accept her resignation. The meeting began at 9 a.m. and ended at 9:51."

Ortiz said the council plans to replace Rupnicki at its quarterly meeting Oct. 21. The council will take ideas from the general council for a replacement. No one person has been brought forward as a possible replacement at this time, he said.

Has Rupnicki ended her political career? Ortiz said he doesn't think so, adding he fully expects to see her run for office again in the future.

"She said she was going to go and tend to farming the last time I saw her," Ortiz said, "but I think she'll be back." He said she made a statement to that effect before departing the tribal headquarters building.

Rupnicki, also head of the Haskell Indian Nations University Board of Regents, was considered one of the most powerful American Indians in Kansas.

Brad Hamilton, director of the Kansas Office of Native American Affairs, declined comment when asked to speculate on whether Rupnicki would be back on the political platform.

"We had a good relationship with Mamie and her administration and we are hoping we will have a continuing good relation with whoever takes the reins. Whenever a tribal government goes through those types of situations its unfortunate, but our office doesn't take sides."

Rupnicki was not home when a call was made for comment.