January 17, 2017

Caddo leadership dispute finally gets day in court

ANADARKO, Okla. – An end may be in sight for an Oklahoma tribe’s leadership dispute.

Earlier this month, judge Phil Lajun with the Southern Plains region’s Court of Indian Offenses granted an emergency injunction prohibiting Brenda Shemayme Edwards from conducting official business or spending any funds on behalf of the Caddo Nation, based in Binger, Okla.

Lajun has scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Tuesday that would potentially make the injunction permanent.

Re-elected as chairwoman last summer, Edwards was subject to a recall petition within weeks of taking office. Since then, the tribe has had two factions claiming to be its legitimate authority, with one administration, currently led by Anthony Cotter, working out of the Caddo Nation complex and another, led by Edwards, working off-site.

The injunction request comes from a March 10 Caddo Tribal Council meeting affiliated with the Cotter administration. Twenty-one tribal citizens – one more than the constitutionally-required minimum for quorum -- signed off on bringing a case forward to the Court of Indian Affairs, which adjudicates cases stemming from the Caddo Nation.

The hearing comes on the heels of a federal judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit against both administrations filed by an oil and gas firm seeking severance taxes from the tribe. Binger Operations LLC pays monthly taxes to the Caddo Nation for its oil and gas properties on tribal land. With both claimant governments requesting tax dollars, the company filed an action in December with the Western District of Oklahoma to get a determination on who had a legitimate claim to the money.

Judge Joe Heaton dismissed Binger Operation LLC’s case on the grounds that the federal court cannot consider the case until all options at the tribal level, including going before the Court of Indian Offenses, are exhausted.

 “Where, as here, the underlying dispute is one of internal tribal governance, insistence on exhaustion of tribal court (or other) remedies is particularly appropriate,” Heaton wrote.

With two claimant governments attempting to lead the tribe of 5,500 citizens, the Bureau of Indian Affairs designated the Caddo Nation a “high risk contractor/grantee” late last year, placing its self-governance funding at risk. A BIA investigation is still pending into an armed break-in at the tribe’s complex in December.