ELKO, Nev. ? Te-Moak Chairman Felix Ike believes he was acting on "the people's wishes" when he moved forward with a June 3 vote on whether bands of the Western Shoshone should accept a monetary judgment award.
"When we were getting ready to go back to Washington for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in March, I called for a general meeting for all the leadership. I got resolutions saying I could go to Washington and present their case for them," he said. "They did it by resolution and said I could act on their behalf.
"Now the Duckwater Council went contrary to their people and 96 members of the Duckwater reservation drafted up their own petition saying they supported (Reid's) bill. They signed a petition saying they wanted me to be their representative in Washington to have their voices heard. They thought I best represented their community."
Ike denied accusations that he violated established election procedures and ignored tribal council resolutions opposing his actions.
"It was just a straw vote by the people, so we didn't have to follow all those procedures," Ike said. "It's a vote of the people. It's not binding."
However, Leta Piffero, a member of the Elko Band Elections Committee, said if the vote is used by Sen. Harry Reid as the basis for going forward with claims distribution legislation, it becomes binding despite the tribes' objections.
Ike said the draft legislation pushing for a distribution of the Indian Claims Commission judgment fund came from a 32-member Western Shoshone Claims Settlement Committee formed in 1998 under the auspices of the Te-Moak Tribal Council.
"This thing was started way back before I became chairman," he said. "It's something that I just inherited. I inherited the bill and I inherited the actions of Senator Reid. So when the Council wanted to talk about the claims, I said 'it's already being handled by the committee and it's really not a council issue. It's a people issue.'"
While opponents of the cash settlement claim the committee has only five or six actual members, Ike said every community was represented on a much larger committee. Though he promised to furnish Indian Country Today with the full list of committee names and telephone numbers, the information was never received despite repeated calls to his office.
Ike was unable to produce a document that authorized the Steering Committee to act on behalf of the Western Shoshone people.
When asked how he or the committee could bypass tribal councils elected by the people, Ike said he bent to pressure from people calling and telling him he had to do something since the other tribal chairmen had not acted to develop a new ballot following the cancellation of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee meeting on March 21.
When the band councils and other communities did not hold meetings to discuss the new ballot, Ike said he took the initiative to develop a packet that he left with Chairman Larson Bill of the South Fork Band to consider at the next council meeting.
Ike had to be in Washington, D.C. the day of the council meeting and said he put the claims issue on the agenda expecting the council to act on it. It did not.
"When I came back from Washington I asked my administrator what kind of direction the council gave me and she said 'there's nothing on the claims.'" We had a general meeting the next morning and I said 'what are we going to do?'" Ike recalled.
Feeling that he had to present something, he and his staff quickly developed a packet of information that was distributed at the general council meeting of about 120 people.
"I told people at that meeting that if this bill passes, it is strictly for monetary distribution. I made that very clear to them because that's what the fact sheet (attached to each ballot) says," Ike said.
When asked if he had received authorization from the Te-Moak Tribal Council to proceed with a ballot, Ike said, "They didn't object. So why not move forward?"
Ike also said the resolutions demanding that he cancel the election and curtail his efforts to push for the claims settlement were "bogus."
"They are bogus resolutions because they've been trying to stop this process," he said. "But once this process starts to go, you can't stop it, okay?"
If Reid's distribution bill passes and some 5,000 Western Shoshone people receive per capita payments, asked Indian Country Today, what was Chairman Ike's vision for securing a larger land base or buying additional land with the collective wealth of the people?
"People can spend the money any way they want," Ike said. "It's up to them as individuals. However they want to spend it, it's theirs. If they want to drink it up, that's their business. I'm not going to tell them what to do."