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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published May 28 2013

Spirit Lake’s leadership on hold

GRAND FORKS – Spirit Lake’s Tribal Council gained two new members Tuesday, but tribal officials set aside results in the race for Fort Totten District representative and scheduled a new election.

The action apparently will delay the filing of petitions by tribe members seeking the ouster of Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton Sr.

Leander “Russ” McDonald, who was briefly acclaimed tribal chairman last month by members opposed to Yankton, had been declared winner of the Fort Totten District seat on the council after defeating incumbent Clarice Brownshield in the May 7 election.

Brownshield appealed to the election board May 8. But because the board already had certified the results, her appeal was denied. Brownshield then appealed to Spirit Lake Tribal Court, which heard the case last week and ruled Friday that there should be a new district election.

Yankton announced during the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at the Spirit Lake Casino that the new district election would be held June 11.

McDonald said he wasn’t able to attend the Tribal Court hearings last week because he was in New York participating in the opening of an art exhibit based on life and culture at Spirit Lake.

“I haven’t received anything in writing,” he said prior to Tuesday’s ceremony, adding that he planned to attend “and see if they’re going to swear me in or not.” In any event, he said, “I’m a singer, so if they swear in the other two, I’ll sing an honor song for them.”

At the ceremony, Nancy Greene-Robertson took over as tribal secretary-treasurer, which includes a seat on the council. She defeated incumbent Barbara Jackson in the May 7 election.

Mardell Merrick-Lewis was sworn in as representative for the St. Michael District.

Yankton and two other members of the council are holdovers.

McDonald said he told Yankton that the Tribal Court decision did not follow the constitution and election laws of the tribe. He also told the chairman that Tribal Judge Shirley Cain, who presided at Brownshield’s appeal, should have removed herself from the case due to a conflict of interest, as she is related to Brownshield.

McDonald said he may raise that issue with the court. Failing that, he said he will stand for election again June 11. More than 200 tribe members voted for him, he said, “and I don’t think I can let those guys down now.”