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Protesters demand new Pine Ridge election

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Claims that the Oglala Sioux Tribe's general and primary elections last fall were tainted with corruption, illegally held and in violation of the people's right to a fair election have prompted demands for a new election.

A small group of protesters gathered in front of the tribal offices March 20 to demand the new election not so much to change the outcome of the previous election, but to ensure that another election would be properly conducted.

''The election was a fraud and the BIA upheld it. The only government is the treaty government,'' said Duane Martin, tribal member and an organizer of the protest.

''We have tried everything; there is graft and corruption. We need to bring the people out of dormancy and hold a new election,'' he said.

Martin hinted that the U.S. Department of Justice would be willing to perform an investigation into the proceedings of the past election on Pine Ridge. The DOJ did not respond for this story.

The controversy began with the Oct. 3 primary election, with unclear ballot instructions that were alleged to be misleading in three of the nine districts. Additional allegations that some people were not allowed to vote and were turned away surfaced.

The OST election board ordered a new election in one district. The tribal election board of appeals ruled that a new election be held for the entire reservation, but the tribal council then removed the appeals and election boards and acted on their own by ordering the election to move forward - a move some people claim violated the tribal constitution and election code.

Days before the November general election, then-president Alex White Plume's name was removed from the ballot after it was found he was convicted of a felony some 25 years earlier. He claimed the conviction was expunged, but didn't provide proper documentation for proof.

White Plume was the top vote-getter for president in the primary election, with John Yellow Bird Steele coming in second and Cecelia Fire Thunder, the former tribal president, third.

Steele, when confronted during a heated exchange of words in front of the tribal offices during the protest, said he would ask that a new election be held based on the findings of a three-judge panel. The findings are expected in the next few weeks.

Steele said he had previously agreed to an election between himself and White Plume. But, he told the crowd, he had to form the new government in order to sustain a continuity of governance so that programs would be eligible for funding. He also claimed that the tribe's Prairie Wind Casino would be in jeopardy should the OST be left without a governing body.

Martin, during a second heated face to face confrontation with Steele, demanded to know if Steele would call a new election. Steele said it depended on the findings of a three-judge panel that reviewed the election process. Steele said he would agree to another election.

''When the recommendations come down I will do something.''

Later, while in the council chambers during a break in a council meeting, Martin again confronted Steele and demanded to know if he would agree to a new election. Steele then said he would not, for the council.

''There will be a new election. I will hit the streets with this,'' Martin said. ''We will be successful; I'm tired of it, man.''

Steele reminded Martin that the administration had the majority of the voters on their side.

Steele, while speaking to the protesters, said he was a victim in this controversy. ''I had nothing to do with the election process, the people voted for me,'' Steele said.

''We need to address the election code. It was brought before the council but they tabled it,'' said Bruce Whalen, Oglala and former candidate for U.S. House of Representatives in 2006.

''They failed us; we are all victims,'' Whalen said. ''Our administration doesn't follow our laws.''

While Steele addressed the crowd, he was interrupted by elders and others who said they wanted the IRA government out and a new treaty government in its place.

''This is my grandpa and grandma's land; I love that land,'' said Esther White Face, Oglala elder. ''We want a new election; we don't like the IRA government.''

The tribal election board of appeals ruled that a new election process should have taken place but that board was removed and the election board was removed by the tribal council, which took over the role of election board.

Whalen said the council, with members who were running for election, could not serve as an election board.

''They [the council] knew the law was violated and many people didn't get a chance to vote. We can fix this ourselves,'' said Joe Red Cloud, tribal member.

''This is not about John or Alex. The chief judge needs a juris doctor's degree and only one candidate had one, but there were three people on the ballot.

''If the council was elected in the right way they would go for a new election, but they know they will not be re-elected,'' Red Cloud said.

Organizers of the protest said that other gatherings at various locations on the reservation were to be held and claimed that hundreds of people would show up to demand the new election.