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Chuck Haga, Published July 31 2013

Former Spirit Lake Tribal Chairman Yankton barred from tribal offices

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. – The Spirit Lake Tribal Court apparently issued a restraining order Wednesday against former Tribal Chairman Roger Yankton Sr., barring Yankton from entering the tribal government building or having any contact with members of the Tribal Council.

Council members sought the restraining order after Yankton appeared at a general assembly meeting Tuesday night and attempted to run the meeting, according to tribe members who were present.

Yankton and Leander “Russ” McDonald, now the Fort Totten District representative on the council, have jockeyed in recent weeks over who is tribal chairman after members voted in early July to oust Yankton and replace him with McDonald. The question is to be heard by the Northern Plains Intertribal Court of Appeals in South Dakota, but a hearing date has not been set.

Copies of the restraining order obtained by the Herald indicate the order was issued Wednesday by Chief Judge Ruth Hopkins, though the copies bear the signature of a court clerk and not the judge. Hopkins and other court officials could not be reached Wednesday night to confirm the order.

In the document, the Tribal Court directs that “any violence or harassment directed at the Petitioner (the Tribal Council) must stop.”

In “findings of fact” listed on the order, the court said that public safety at the government headquarters, known as the Blue Building, “is a concern due to the controversial nature of recent events regarding both (the council) and (Yankton).”

The order notes that “threats of physical harm have been made by multiple parties against (the council members) as well as (Yankton), due to his continuing presence in the Spirit Lake Tribal Office.”

Yankton is ordered not to “threaten, molest (or) injure” any of the petitioners or “take or damage any of the petitioners’ property directly or through any third party.” He also is barred from contacting them by phone or coming within 100 feet of their place of residence, employment or, if applicable, their children’s day care, or to approach within 100 feet of the council members “in any public place.”

Critics of Yankton have repeatedly accused him of using intimidating tactics to pursue his agenda.

Confrontation at meeting

Yankton apparently was served with the restraining order while participating in a meeting at another tribal office Wednesday. In a brief telephone conversation late Wednesday, he acknowledged that a legal action had been taken but that tribal officials “are still going over that.”

He indicated that a Tribal Court order was subject to administrative review. “The legality has to be settled by the Law and Order Board and the government,” he said.

Since it was the government – the elected Tribal Council – that sought the restraining order, it was unclear whether or how Yankton intended to resist it.

Myra Pearson, who preceded Yankton as tribal chairman, said that she went to the Tuesday night general assembly meeting after hearing that Yankton “took over the microphone and was blaming my administration” for the tribe’s financial problems.

“He’s always blaming past administrations,” Pearson said. “A leader would stand up and say, ‘This is my responsibility and I’m going to take care of it.’ That’s what I did.”

She said she brought documents to the meeting showing the balances in tribal funds at the time she left office on May 31, 2011, and Yankton took over.

She said she confronted Yankton Tuesday night and said, “I’m tired of you blaming me for this deficit” in tribal funds. “You tell the people here what you did.” She said Yankton responded by saying he would study the documents.

Told Wednesday that the council had sought a restraining order, Pearson said, “I’m glad somebody finally confronted him. I don’t recognize him as chairman, and I’m not afraid of him.

“Last night was the last straw,” she said, referring to the general assembly meeting.