In the latest manifestation of a leadership dispute in the Douglas Indian Association, the tribal government last Thursday canceled tribal council elections scheduled for Monday, Jan. 6.
The cancellation followed the last-minute resignation of the tribe's election superintendent.
The DIA is a federally recognized tribe with about 400 members. When it is not dealing with internal strife, which it has been for the last five to six years, said U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Regional Director Niles Cesar, the tribe has lobbied for subsistence fishing rights, ownership of Mayflower Island near Savikko Park, and reconstruction of traditional Tlingit villages.
The election was canceled because the last-minute resignation of the election superintendent did not leave the tribe enough time to compile a list of eligible voters properly, the tribal leadership said.
"It's based on the election superintendent resigning," President Dorothy Owen said. "When she resigned, that stopped everything, and there's nothing we can do about it."
Owen would not release the name of the superintendent or say why the superintendent resigned.
"The tribe prefers not to name names or accusations or anything like that," she said. "This is tribal business, for tribal members."
New elections will be held when the tribe finds a new election superintendent, who will post a list of eligible voters 30 days before the election.
"To really have a good election, where there are no questions, we're looking at finding a reputable CPA (certified public accountant) firm," Owen said. "We tried to do it with a member as a superintendent, and that didn't work. ... We just want to find someone who can be fair."
This is the second year in a row that the elections, mandated in the DIA constitution, have not been held, said Butch Laiti, a tribal council candidate in the 2003 election.
DIA members elected George Mather, Henry T. Howard, Norman Sarabia, Frank Miyasato and Jim Marks to the tribal council in 2001.
But Owen, who was elected president of the DIA in January 2000, declared the voting process "null and void because of irregularities," she said. The council in place before the election continued to act as the governing body.
Cesar, the BIA regional director, sent a letter in March 2001 recognizing the tribal government in place before the 2001 election and urging the tribe to hold another election as soon as possible.
"The election clearly violated its own constitution and bylaws," Cesar said. "When that happens, we have to make a judgment of what to do. Because the election had so many problems, the best bet was to recognize the incumbents and urge them to hold another election."
Laiti and other tribal members submitted an appeal to the federal Department of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, but no ruling has been made.
"The court has in some measure been waiting for the results of an election," Cesar said. "I'm assuming that the court shares our extreme frustration at the inability of the DIA to conduct these elections."
Owen and other members of the pre-January 2001 government planned to hold a new election, but it has not been held yet.
"Over the last year and a half, they've announced eight different times that they were going to schedule an election, and it never happened," Laiti said. "This time we thought we had them, and at the last minute they pulled out again."
But Owen said this was the only time since the January 2001 election that tribal elections officially have been postponed.
Cesar sent a letter to Owen on Jan. 2 urging her to hold the elections on Jan. 6, as planned.
"I fear that letting the election date slip now would represent a serious setback, and I therefore urge you to try your utmost to avoid any postponement," he wrote.
He plans to send another letter to Owen and other council members today.
"We'll express our continued deep concern that unless there's an election held, tribal members cannot be reasonably assured that their voices will be heard," Cesar said.