January 17, 2017

BIA to ‘monitor’ Cheyenne Arapaho election

However, there is still some question as to who will be conducting the election since two separate election commissions have sent out notices to accept candidacy filings and voter registration forms.

CONCHO, Okla. – The Bureau of Indian Affairs will be involved in the Cheyenne and Arapaho’s upcoming election, but logistics of how such a move will work are still undetermined.

In a letter dated May 1 from the Department of the Interior, Deputy Bureau Director Hankie Ortiz wrote on behalf of BIA director Michael Black that the bureau would monitor the tribes’ election later this year. Tribal Councils called by each of the tribes’ factions had previously adopted resolutions requesting that the BIA conduct the 2013 election rather than the tribes’ election commission.

“Although the Tribal Council has requested the BIA conduct the election, the BIA will limit its involvement to providing technical assistance and monitoring,” Ortiz wrote. “Specifically, the BIA may offer technical advice in election procedures, serve as a monitor for the counting of ballots and assist with certification of election results.”

The constitutionally-bound tribes have been dealing with a leadership schism for more than two years. Multiple appeals on the split and its implications are pending before the Interior Board of Indian Appeals but no timeline has been given on a ruling.

Despite the BIA’s promise to monitor the election, there is still some question as to who will be conducting it as each administration’s election commission has sent out notices that as the constitutional election board, it is accepting candidacy filings and voter registration forms. The election commission affiliated with Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell’s administration is working out of the tribes’ complex in Concho, Okla. The commission recognized by Leslie Wandrie-Harjo’s administration has an office in El Reno, Okla., and a post office box in Weatherford, Okla.

Each side’s election commission has at least one open seat. In the letter, Ortiz asks that the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Council designate enough tribal citizens to ensure representation for all eight of the tribes’ districts.

Jane Nightwalker, speaker for the legislature affiliated with the Wandrie-Harjo administration, said a petition is being circulated to get enough tribal citizens’ signatures for a special council meeting, but could not give a timeline for when that meeting would be. As per the Cheyenne and Arapaho constitution, at least 15 days’ notice must be given for a special council meeting after a petition with at least 150 tribal citizens’ signatures is filed with the Tribal Council coordinator.

Lisa Liebl, spokeswoman for the Prairie Chief-Boswell administration, said their side would fill the remaining election commission seats through its legislature.

“The legislature is going to appoint more commissioners in the coming days,” she said. “At that juncture, all eight commission seats will be filled and each district will be represented on the election board. A collaboration with the El Reno group is not on the table.”

As per the tribes’ constitution, the candidates’ filing period began last Wednesday and closes June 1. The primary election is scheduled for Oct. 8 and the general election is scheduled for Nov. 5. Along with four legislative positions, the offices of governor and lieutenant governor are up for election this year.

“This will probably wind up in court, but I don’t think any of us thought that this would go on this long,” Nightwalker said.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to requests for comment or additional information.

Leslie Wandrie-Harjo, left, and Janice Prairie Chief-Boswell were once political allies and elected together to govern the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. Their split resulted in two separate tribal governments.