PINE RIDGE, S.D. - It took three tries but John Yellow Bird Steele was re-elected as president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Nov. 19, defeating Russell Means.
One failed primary, a second primary that brought the same results and finally a general election that came two weeks later than expected gave Steele his fourth term in office. Steele served as president for two terms from 1992 through 1994 and from 1996 to 1998, from 2000 to 2002. With this victory he becomes only the third president since 1935 to serve two consecutive two-year terms in office.
The results of the first two primary elections did not have Steele on top of the voter list. His rival, actor and activist Russell Means led the field in both of the primaries.
The first primary from September was thrown out because of irregularities in the handling of the ballot boxes.
Steele finished with 2,526 votes to Means' 2,014 with a victory in six of the nine districts. In the second primary Means beat Steele by 109 votes.
It was questionable whether Means would be allowed to stay on the ballot after the first primary drew a challenge to his eligibility because of a 1975 felony charge in Sioux Falls and questions about his residency on the reservation.
The Oglala Sioux Election Appeals Court ruled that the laws of the state of South Dakota would be used and allowed Means to run. Means tried unsuccessfully to run for governor of New Mexico, where he has a residency.
Means said he was incensed about the cancellation of the first primary and called it an illegal move. He said the tribe changes the rules daily.
He said in a prepared statement that the Nov. 19 general election violated the Oglala Sioux Tribe's Election Code Law that states the election must be held in conjunction with the federal election.
"For four straight terms, the people have voiced their demand for change by completely changing the face of the Tribal Council. It is up to you, my relatives, to maintain a uniform front and hold the administration and council representatives to their collective word," Means said.
He said the voter turnout on Nov. 5 was disappointing, but election officials said it was very high. Means campaigned to change the way business is done on the Pine Ridge Reservation and said that a non-vote was a vote for the status quo.
Steele could not be reached for comment.
A new vice-president will join the administration; Dennis King was elected with a 427-vote margin with 2,371 votes to 2.044 for his challenger Eileen Janis. King and Janis maintained the top two spots in both of the previous primary elections.
Current Vice President Teresa "Huck" Two Bulls ran for president and finished third in the primary.
One-half of the tribal council will now be women, the largest number of women to serve on the 18 member tribal council.
There will also be 11 new faces on the council as only seven incumbents survived through the primaries and the general elections.
The new women on the council will be Valerie Kills Small-Janis; Carol Crazy Thunder O-Rourke; Kathy Janis; Genevieve Ribitsch; Cora Whiting-Hilderbrand and Juanita Scherich. Ruth Brown from Eagle Nest District is not new to the council, but was not an incumbent. Alice Perkins from Wakpamni District retained her seat, as did Lydia Bear Killer from Pass Creek District.
Alvin Slow Bear, Norman Standing Soldier, Phillip Good Crow and Tom Poor Bear will take new seats on the council. Incumbents returning are Garry Janis and Lyle Jack in Pine Ridge District; Craig Dillon in LaCreek District; Marlin "Moon" Weston in Porcupine District and Emmett Kelly in Wounded Knee District.