January 22, 2017

Caddo Tribe experiencing leadership dispute

Both sides have reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ regional office for assistance, just 15 miles south on U.S. Highway 281, but were rebuffed, citing the agency’s policy to not get involved in intra-tribal disputes.

BINGER, Okla. – With two claimant chairmen, the identity of the Caddo Nation’s leadership is up in the air.

Both Brenda Shemayme Edwards and Philip Smith currently claim to be the tribe’s legitimate chairman. Edwards was re-elected to a second four-year term as chairwoman in August and within three weeks of taking the oath of office, was the subject of a recall petition, arguing she had violated the tribe’s constitution by not convening a “legitimate Tribal Council meeting” with enough members present for quorum in more than a year.

Smith, the tribe’s recently elected vice chairman, maintains that the petition was incorrectly deemed invalid.

“The only people who counted in the petition were the ones who voted in the last election,” Smith said. “They didn’t even go by the list of registered voters as per the Caddo Nation constitution.”

The tribe’s constitution requires a recall petition to have signatures from at least 50 Caddo citizens who are registered to vote. In an Aug. 29 letter from the tribe’s secretary, Wildena Moffer, not enough petition signatures could be confirmed as valid to certify the petition.

Despite Moffer’s letter, a recall meeting went on ahead as announced on Sept. 7 at the complex. The tribe’s recall ordinance provides the chairman up to 15 days to schedule a meeting and requires at least 15 days’ written notice for the accused. Edwards claims she was not notified until Aug. 30, when she received an email from Smith and saw an advertisement for the meeting in the Anadarko Daily News.

Edwards received a handwritten second request for the Sept. 7 meeting from four of the six other council members on Sept. 6, less than 24 hours before the meeting. The Caddo Nation constitution requires the chairman to call a special meeting upon the written request of a majority of the council, provided at least 10 days’ notice is given.

“Our constitution is our governing document and it specifically says the chair must be the one to call the meeting,” Edwards said. “They went on ahead and had an illegal meeting. We got notice on Aug. 29 that the petition was found to be invalid, but they had already put the ad out for the recall meeting. I didn’t call it. They’re not following the constitution.”

Thirty-six Caddo citizens and four Tribal Council members attended the meeting and voted to recall Edwards. The tribe’s constitution requires a minimum of 20 Caddo citizens – excluding council members – to establish a quorum at a membership meeting. That vote was upheld at a Sept. 24 Tribal Council meeting after an attempt on Sept. 11 to physically remove Edwards from office and escort her from the complex failed.

Both sides have reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ regional office for assistance, just 15 miles south on U.S. Highway 281, but were rebuffed, citing the agency’s policy to not get involved in intra-tribal disputes. The Caddo Nation has a two-man security detail for its properties, but does not have its own law enforcement agency.

“It’s been havoc and now the BIA is shut down, so I can’t get a restraining order,” Smith said. “Moving forward, I’m worried about our finances. It’s a new fiscal year and we’re supposed to be doing draw downs.”

As the leadership dispute drags on, the split between the two factions remains pronounced.

Smith and his supporters currently have access to the tribe’s complex, but not the finances, tribal tag office or the tribe’s password-protected computer server. The locks at the facility have been changed and Smith is serving as acting chairman until a special election can be scheduled.

The Edwards administration placed tribal employees on administrative leave on Sept. 30 and now describes the complex as closed.  An attempt by the Edwards administration to switch off the complex’s electricity was unsuccessful since the facility is on the same power grid as on a nearby stop light.

“I’m reaching out to the membership and asking for their support,” Edwards said. “Right now, they (the citizens) are the governing body. I am asking for their support to get back to their complex. No law enforcement agency has come forward to assist us and I thought that was what they were supposed to be there for.

“I don’t feel defeated. I really don’t. We just have to go through another avenue and the membership will prevail.“

Calls to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Southern Plains regional office in Anadarko, Okla., were not returned as of press time.

Headquartered in Caddo County, Okla., the tribe has about 5,500 enrolled citizens.