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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published April 11 2013

Spirit Lake elders seek dismissal of entire council

GRAND FORKS – More than 30 elders of the Spirit Lake Nation adopted a resolution Thursday calling for dismissal of the entire Tribal Council, citing continuing issues with child protection and other problems.

Cheryl Good Iron, who participated in the two-hour meeting, said the elders planned to meet again today at the Spirit Lake Casino with the Bureau of Indian Affairs superintendent and members of the tribe’s election board to clarify steps to be taken.

“We do have the authority” to call for the leaders’ ouster, she said.

Erich Longie, another elder who participated in the meeting, said the elders asked everyone younger than 55 to leave the meeting before discussion began. During that discussion, people complained about the child protection issue, a lack of jobs on the reservation, “excessive travel” by council members and the use of “intimidation” and “rewarding certain people” to solidify authority.

“The people are fed up,” Longie said. “This action is a way to send a message to the council that the people are getting close to the point of no return.”

Longie said he suggested that the elders circulate petitions to force an election. But elections are scheduled later this spring for council representatives from two of the reservation’s four districts and for tribal secretary, “so we may not need to recall” for those, he said.

Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton and most of the council members were in Watertown, S.D., on business, according to a spokeswoman, and were unavailable for comment.

Good Iron said the elders felt compelled to take action “due to all the violations of the Tribal Council against the (tribal) constitution” and because the council had suspended one of its members last week.

“They don’t have the right to do that,” Good Iron said of the council’s suspension of Clarice Brownshield.

The elders’ action Thursday came on the heels of Brownshield calling a meeting Wednesday to accuse Yankton and other leaders of corruption.

Brownshield, who said she was unjustly suspended, accused Yankton and other tribal employees of making unauthorized payments for services, hiring of a Yankton relative after she had been fired for absenteeism, and allowing payments to relatives of the chairman who are not tribal members.

At the meeting late Wednesday, she distributed documents that she said backed her charges. She said she has contacted the FBI about her allegations.

Kyle Loven, an FBI special agent and district spokesman in Minneapolis, said the FBI would neither confirm nor deny receiving information about alleged corruption at Spirit Lake.

Attempts to reach Brownshield were unsuccessful.

A message left on Yankton’s cell phone was not returned.