January 24, 2017

Chippewa Cree tribe suspends special election

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) – The Chippewa Cree tribe has delayed a special election to pick a new leader after its ousted chairman challenged an election board decision to disqualify him as a candidate.

The tribe's election board voted unanimously to temporarily stay Tuesday's election after Ken Blatt St. Marks filed a complaint that the decision to disqualify him was based on an outdated and obscure 1966 ordinance, The Great Falls Tribune reported.

“A complaint was filed in tribal court questioning the validity of the 1966 ordinance. The election board has deemed additional time is required to ensure that the decision as to qualifications of candidates is constitutionally valid,” the board said in a statement.

St. Marks was removed as chairman of the northern Montana tribe in March after the eight other members of the Chippewa Cree Business Committee accused him of neglect of duty and gross misconduct.

The former chairman denied the allegations and said he was targeted because he blew the whistle on corruption among tribal leaders and was cooperating with a federal investigation.

That investigation so far has resulted in six indictments on charges that federal funding meant to build a 50-mile water pipeline to the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation was diverted through a complex scheme of intermediaries and a shell company.

Among those indicted is tribal business committee member John Chance Houle and Chippewa Cree Construction Corp. CEO Tony Belcourt. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

St. Marks at first said he was the rightful chairman, his ouster was illegal and the special election to replace him was not legitimate. Later, he filed as a candidate and was certified May 6 by the election board.

“I just thought I would throw my name in again to see what the people are thinking,” St. Marks told the Havre Daily News.

Three days after he was certified, the five-member board disqualified him, citing the 1966 tribal ordinance that said any person removed from the business committee for neglect of duty within the past two years is not qualified.

St. Marks challenged the decision in tribal court. He told the Havre newspaper on Friday that the court held a hearing on his request.

A court clerk said tribal court proceedings are sealed and the order would not be made public.

Other candidates include acting Business Committee Chairman Richard Morsette, state Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, Curtis A. Monteau, Luanne Belcourt and Bert Corcoran.