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Seminoles challenge the BIA

WEWOKA, Okla. ? The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is challenging the BIA over attempts to replace the newly elected tribal government.

The bureau action stems from a tribal referendum passed in August 2000 that redefined requirements for tribal membership and excluded Freedmen from the tribal rolls.

The new requirements, in compliance with the Seminole Nation's constitution, were supposed to have been forwarded to the BIA for approval. But before the resolution was sent to the BIA, a new chief and assistant chief were elected.

Since the tribe failed to gain approval of the BIA to exclude the Freedmen members of the tribe before the election, it was considered to be illegal and the BIA officially recognizes on the previously elected council and Jerry Haney as the leader of the tribe.

Bank accounts with federal funding for the tribe have been frozen and the tribe is relying on revenue from gaming and other tribal enterprises to fund its operations, Assistant Chief Marianne Emarthla said.

The Seminole Nation has taken legal action to stop the BIA from attempting to replace the newly elected government and is in the process of rewriting its constitution so the council doesn't have to get the permission of the BIA for changes in its government in the future.

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"Right now the Seminole Nation went through their election process and we had two new leaders elected by the people at large," Emarthla said. "But still the BIA is not recognizing the new leaders. They are saying they are still recognizing the old."

Emarthla said the referendum over the Freedmen was the reason for the BIA interference in the tribal government.

"We thought we did everything right," Emarthla said. "But I guess they thought they should have heard it from us first. What I understand is that Jerry (former Chief Haney) didn't submit those before we had our election and because of that they said we should have had their approval before we had our election."

Although some Freedmen voted, Emarthla said she believed they knew the matter was "out there" and felt they could have turned out in greater numbers to vote.

"They knew about it," she said. "They could have come out in larger force and voted against those referendums concerning them, but very few did."

Sources said the tribe is wokring on a new constitution that bypasses BIA permission for changes in its government which will be submitted to the tribal voters for approval.

Emarthla said she wasn't sure if a final run past the BIA for permission to change the constitution would be necessary at that point or not. She said the tribe expected to have the new constitution put together in the next 45 days.