My Turn: DIA progressing toward a tribal council election

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

T he Douglas Indian Association Tribal Government will hold an election of four council members as required in the Tribe's Constitution in 2003. In November 2002, the council publicly announced the intention to hold the election on the first Monday in January as required by the tribe's constitution. A series of events postponed the elective process, but did not stop the election.

The council has attempted to remain above board and concentrate on completing the tribal council election while keeping the tribal programs moving forward. We tried to refrain from exposing any of the strife created by the latest delay and stay silent on the issues surrounding the election. The council hoped the politics of the tribe would remain internal and out of the news media, but since the DIA election seems to be appearing in the newspaper, we feel we must respond.

The election was scheduled for the first Monday in January as required in the tribe's constitution. The council appointed a tribal member as the election superintendent for 2003 that is well respected for being fair and impartial. Her duties were to verify and validate the candidates applications for a seat on the council, the eligible voters list and do whatever was needed to make sure the election proceeded, (The eligible voters list was and still is incomplete because the original records for tribal enrollment remain unavailable to us. However, we will use what we have.)

Leading up the postponed election, two prospective candidates continuously contacted the superintendent making unreasonable demands of her time and dictating what she had to do for the scheduled election even when they were told it was inappropriate for them to contact her. The contacts made her feel very uncomfortable and she felt this contact compromised her position as an independent manager of the election.

She tolerated the inappropriate contact up until three days before the election when she had to resign because of a phone call she received from one of the prospective candidates late on the Friday prior to the scheduled election. The prospective candidate was, in her opinion, intoxicated and had an oppressive and threatening tone in his voice. Fearing for her safety, she resigned the next day and filed a police report about this phone call. The superintendent's resignation required a delay in election 2003 and the council met immediately to generate a new election plan.

Upon her resignation, the superintendent suggested to the council a neutral, third party should be responsible for certifying the election. The council acted on her recommendation and chose to postpone the election in order to redefine the process to use an inspector of elections rather than a tribal superintendent. The new election ordinance that assigns an inspector of elections was adopted shortly thereafter and will govern the process. The inspector is different from the superintendent in that the neutral, third party is not a member of the tribe and is hired to do the job. The inspector will probably be a reputable accounting firm.

Much has been said about the failed council election of 2001 and what has transpired since. Right after the failed election of 2001, the Tribal Council had to remain silent while litigation and appeals filed against the tribe in federal court and with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals remained outstanding. It is regrettable the matter surrounding that day in our history could not have remained a tribal matter. Without a tribal court though, the matter went to the federal courts and agencies for resolution. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA) have been monitoring DIA's election since January 2001. To date, neither the BIA nor the IBIA have conducted any investigation in to election 2001 despite our repeated requests for them to do so. There is more that could be said about election 2001, but, at this point, it would serve no purpose other than to incite more accusations, conjecture and innuendo. We choose to try to move on, if possible.

The council is committed to electing four new council members as required in the constitution. Once we have all the necessary protocols in place, we will post the candidates list, voters list and the election ordinance in the necessary venues for review by our members.

• Dorothy Owen is president of the Douglas Indian Association Tribal Government.

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